Press Briefing Conference Call on the Vice President’s Trip to Turkey and Greece

Monday, November 28, 2011

Release Time: 

For Immediate Release

Via Teleconference

3:03 P.M. EST

        MS. BARKOFF:  Thank you, and thanks for joining the call today.  Our hope is to provide you all with a more detailed sense of the Vice President’s schedule and his goals on his trip to Greece and Turkey.  With us today we have National Security Advisor to the Vice President Tony Blinken.  We have United States Special Envoy to the Organization for Islamic Cooperation Rashad Hussain and Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economic Affairs Michael Froman.

        This is a reminder — this call will be on the record.  And our speakers are happy to take questions after Tony gives his initial, brief opening statement.  We’d like to keep this call focused on the Vice President’s trip as much as possible.  So with that, I'd like to turn this over to Tony.

        MR. BLINKEN:  Kendra, thanks very much, and thanks, everyone, for being on the call.  Good afternoon.

        Let me walk you through, briefly, the highlights of the Vice President’s trip, in terms of the schedule, and then talk about some of the issues we expect to come up.  And then we’ll open it up to your questions.  And in terms of answering questions, as Kendra indicated, Mike Frohman is here and he can focus on some of the economic questions you may have.  And Rashad Hussain is here to talk about the Entrepreneur Summit.

        So the Vice President will travel to Turkey and Greece later this week.  He’s going to stop first in Ankara, on December 2nd.  We’ll have meetings with Turkish leaders in Ankara, and then it’s on the Istanbul to address the global Entrepreneurship Summit on Saturday, December 3rd, which is to be hosted by Prime Minister Erdogan.  

        After Turkey, he goes to Athens for meetings with Greek officials and party leaders.  That’s on Monday, December 5th, and then he comes back home to the United States from Greece.  

        A little bit more detail, in terms of Ankara:  Right now, the schedule has him meeting with Prime Minister Erdogan and President Gul.  He’ll also lay a wreath at the Ataturk Mausoleum and then get into these meetings with the Prime Minister and the President.  And we expect the discussions in Ankara to cover the broad agenda of partnership and cooperation between the United States and Turkey.  There are few international issues on which we do not consult closely with Turkey.  It’s hard to think of any.

        What we expect to be discussed includes, first, our assistance in the fight against PKK terrorism, particularly in light of the recent attacks against Turkish forces.  The PKK is a common enemy of Turkey, the United States and Iraq, and we expect to focus on that.

        We’ll look at expanding trade and investment ties between our two countries.  There has already been significant progress in that arena since President Obama came to office, and we’re going to look at what we can do to further expand those ties.

        I expect we’ll talk about the support for political and economic reform in the countries of the Arab Spring, including the situation in Syria where, as you know, Prime Minister Erdogan has called on President Asad to step down and where of course Turkey has significantly said it would implement the sanctions agreed to by the Arab League just yesterday.  

        I expect we’ll talk about the progress we’ve seen and hope to see in Cyprus negotiations before the Secretary General of the U.N., Ban, brings the two leaders of Cyprus back together in January, and our hopes for a settlement as soon as possible; internal reforms in Turkey, including our hope for the reopening of the Halki seminary in Istanbul.  Afghanistan will almost certainly be on the agenda, and the prospects for progress in normalizing relations between Turkey and Armenia.

        Then it’s on to Istanbul for the Global Entrepreneurship Summit that continues the work of the Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship that was hosted by President Obama here in Washington back in April 2010 to promote entrepreneurship, facilitate innovation and private enterprise, and provide greater economic opportunity.  

        And this summit really comes at a critical moment in the Middle East and North Africa.  We’ve seen that millions of people have been calling out for not only political freedom but also economic opportunity and progress.  Entrepreneurs are a driving force in the United States for job creation.  They can do the same thing in the Middle East and North Africa, and so this could not be more timely.  And this will bring together entrepreneurs, corporate leaders, social entrepreneurship leaders and government officials.

        There will also be, on the sidelines, an innovation fair for young entrepreneurs, in an event that is sponsored by the Department of State, and the Vice President will go over there as well I believe with Prime Minister Erdogan.

        That brings us to Athens, after Istanbul, and there the Vice President will continue our very close dialogue and strong cooperation with the government of Greece.  As the President said, when he called Prime Minister Papademos on November 21 to congratulate him on his appointment, The United States supports Greece’s efforts to implement its commitments under its EU IMF program.  President Obama reiterated that the United States will stand strongly with Greece, a friend and ally, through these difficult times.  The Vice President is going to show that support and to encourage further implementation of the necessary steps.

        While he’s in Athens, the Vice President is going to hold the administration’s first meeting with Prime Minister Papademos, and he’ll also meet with President Papoulias.  

        And that really covers the highlights of the trip, some of the issues we expect to be discussed.  Let me end with that, and turn it over to your questions for me, for Mike, or for Rashad.  Thanks very much.

        Q    Thank you.  Thank you, presenters, for information detailed account of the trip.  My question, first question, is to National Security Advisor Mr. Tony Blinken.  You, sir, I believe, mentioned that one of the items on the agenda is assistance against PKK, which you described as a common enemy.  Turkey has been seeking to get recourse from you and as we understand there are some problems with the U.S. Congress.  My question is, do you have any news that you will — to Turkish counterparts on this?  

        And the second question, on the Entrepreneurship Summit in Istanbul.  Again, you had mentioned that one of the forefront issues is going to be regarding the Arab Spring, and I believe there will be attendance from these countries.  What specifically — I mean, how you are thinking to drive, in this summit — channel this new countries on the path to democracy?  Is there any specific mechanism?  Are you planning to put — to help more in these countries?

        And my final question is on Iran.  There was a threat by the air commander — Air Force commander of the Irani Air Forces over the weekend, saying that in case of an attack by U.S. or Israel on Iran the first target will be the newly installed NATO radar system in Turkey.  What is your response to that kind of threat?  Thank you.

        MR. BLINKEN:  Thanks very much.  Let me take the first and third questions and have Rashad speak to the summit.

        First, on the PKK question.  As I indicated, we stand, in the United States, strongly with our NATO ally, Turkey, in its fight against the PKK.  That’s why we sent the U.S. government team to Turkey last October, just after that terrible PKK attack on Turkish soldiers, to discuss additional assistance to the Turkish government in its fight against terrorism.  

        And there are a number of things that we’re doing that are assisting Turkey in this fight.  And first I should say we’re going to continue to provide a full range of meaningful and effective support for our ally, Turkey, against PKK terrorism, from national defense to diplomacy, law enforcement, intelligence cooperation.  This is something that has to be multifaceted to deal with the problem.

        We’ll be providing three SuperCobra attack helicopters to Turkey.  We transferred four Predator UAVs from Iraq to Incirlik at the air base in Turkey.  We — obviously all U.S. operations in Incirlik occur under agreements with the government of Turkey.  We’re also supporting continued cooperation between Iraq and Turkey in combating the PKK, which is a common enemy of Turkey, Iraq and the United States.  

        We established as you may know with us, Turkey and Iraq a three-way security dialogue to address cross-border terror threats, and we’re working to strengthen that.

        And one of the other things we’re doing is we’re working with Europe to clamp down on illegal PKK fundraising and money laundering.  So in all of these areas, we are working very closely with Turkey.  And this is something as I indicated that the Vice President will talk about when he is in Turkey.

        In terms of the question on Iran, and then I’ll turn it to Rashad on the summit.  A few things I think are worth saying.  I think making threatening statements doesn't serve anyone’s purpose, least of all the Iranians.  The fact of the matter is that the world is deeply concerned with Iran’s activities in a number of areas starting with their nuclear program.  We’ve seen that most recently in the very strong resolutions that were adopted by a wide margin at the IAEA following its report on Iran’s nuclear program, and also at the U.N. General Assembly on the Iranian assassination plot against the Saudi ambassador in Washington.  

        Turkey shares our goal of preventing a nuclear-armed Iran.  And of course, Turkey has a long history of — ties to Iran as well as a long common border.  But Turkish leaders told us repeatedly that they strongly support international efforts to encourage Iran to engage with the P5-plus-1 toward a diplomatic resolution of the concerns about Iran’s nuclear program.

        And of course, we think it’s very important that Turkey, a NATO ally, agreed to host the radar which is a NATO program — very important to the defense of all NATO countries against the growing missile threat that is emerging in the world, and we’re very pleased that Turkey is standing up as a NATO ally to do that.

        Rashad, did you want to say something about the summit?

        MR. HUSSAIN:  Sure.  We are expecting participants from a number of countries in the Middle East and North Africa including Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen and others.  And we continue to believe that economic and social entrepreneurship are powerful forces for creating opportunity and sparking innovation, also for lifting people out of poverty and helping transform societies.

        We’ve seen certainly throughout the Arab Spring that entrepreneurs have been at the forefront of pushing the envelope when it comes to change within societies, and the summit will allow entrepreneurs from all over the world to come together and share their experiences and discuss what they’ve been doing, some of the ways that they’ve been able to overcome obstacles that they face to expand their networks.

        We also will continue to promote in this summit and beyond trade, investment, regional integration as we support political and economic reforms in the Middle East and North Africa, and we’ll also be continuing to assist in combating corruption and aiding those efforts.

        The Vice President will speak a little bit more about this and get into a little bit more detail in some of the specific initiatives that we’ll be implementing with Turkey and with other countries in the region.

        Q    Thank you very much for taking my question.  I have actually two questions:  Will you expect Excellency the Vice President bring any specific proposal for financial help from the U.S. to Greece, number one?  Number two, will you verify that His Excellency will visit the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople and specifically His Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew — of Constantinople on this coming Saturday, please?

        MR. BLINKEN:  Let me just quickly take the last question, then turn it over to Mike for the first question.  Yes, I can confirm that he will see the Ecumenical Patriarch when we’re in Turkey, and he very much looks forward to doing that.


        MR. FROMAN:  Well, thank you.  I think the U.S. very much recognizes the sacrifices being made by the Greek people as they pursue this reform process and view the fiscal and structural reforms that have been agreed on with the European partners and with the IMF as critical.  We stand by Greece.  We’re a strong friend and ally of Greece, and we’ll continue to support Greece through this very challenging period, including through the IMF where we’re the largest shareholder.

        Q    Hi.  Thanks very much for doing this.  Just to preview — the administration is clearly supporting Erdogan, even with military assets such as the Predator, although he’s an Islamist.  He doesn't — he said he’s conditionally supportive of democracy.  He cracks down on political journalists.  He supports the bigots in Hamas.  So what are you asking in return for giving our support to this local leader?  What do we get in return for all this?

        MR. BLINKEN:  As you know, Turkey has been a longstanding ally to the United States through NATO.  We have worked together closely throughout the decade in any theaters of conflict.  We have Turkish soldiers in Afghanistan standing side-by-side with our troops.  We have Turkish cooperation in Iraq.  Turkey has taken a strong stand against the Asad government in Syria, and the Prime Minister has called on Asad to step down.  Turkey is implementing Arab League sanctions.  It played a very significant role in Libya in terms of supporting forces for progress there.  And we’re seeing similar things in Egypt.  So in many, many areas, as well by the way, as trade and economic ties, which have I think have increased twofold since President Obama has been in office.  So in many, many areas we’re working very, very closely with Turkey.

        And Turkey has a very important story to tell as a country that can send — set an example for other countries that are making transitions in the Arab world, in the Islamic world, in North Africa.

        Obviously, there are areas where we clearly have disagreements with our ally and partner, and we have the kind of mature relationship which we can make those disagreements known.  

        You’ve mentioned some areas where we’ve had disagreements, and when it comes to making our concerns known that's certainly something we’ve done and continue to do.  Right now for example Turkey is looking at revising its constitution, and we’ve been urging the Turks in this constitutional reform process to have an inclusive process that strengthens freedoms of expression, religion and other fundamental rights, including the human rights of minorities.

        We’ve expressed concerns about journalists who’ve been detained and others.  We have pushed very hard and continue to push for the reopening of the Halki seminary, and that's something that will come up certainly on the Vice President’s trip.  So we have the kind of relationship with Turkey where we work very closely together on so many different issues across the globe, but where when we have disagreements we make them known in a spirit of respect.

        Q    Thank you.  Hi, Tony.  First of all, for you, you said the Vice President will meet with the President and the Prime Minister of Greece.  But you know we have a coalition government, which is being supported by three parties — with George Papandreou, Mr. Samaras and the leader of the far right, Mr. Karatzaferis.  And then, Mr. Froman, you mentioned the support that the U.S. gives in the IMF and generally.  But will there be something more from the Vice President since that's the first visit by such a high U.S. official in Greece after the crisis?  Will there be something on investment, something maybe in the role of the U.S. banks in dealing with lowering the Greek debt?  I mean something more specific in terms of — support?  Thank you.

        MR. BLINKEN:  Thanks very much.  On the first question, yes, the Vice President will meet with the heads of the two principal parties supporting the transition government, former Prime Minister Papandreou, who heads the largest party in parliament, as you know, and Antonio Samaras, who heads the second largest party.  So he will meet with both of them.


        MR. FROMAN:  On the economic situation, the Vice President will be supportive of the overall reform effort and the package of measures that have been put in place by the European partners and by the IMF.  That includes substantial funding, as well as other mechanisms to help support Greece during the transition period.  So his support will be for the existing package of reform measures and of financial support that's been provided to Greece.

        Q    Thanks for taking the call.  Can you hear me?

        MR. BLINKEN:  Yes.  Go ahead, please.

        Q    Okay.  Do you expect the issue of relations between Turkey and Israel to come up?  On trade with Turkey, could you talk a little bit more specifically about what you expect to do in that space?  And overall, how would you characterize the Vice President’s mission here?  Is it part of the continuation of an ongoing dialogue?  Or do you see concrete deliverables from his visit?

        MR. BLINKEN:  Thanks very much.  It really is part of a continuum.  We’ve had deep engagement with Turkey and with Greece by the President and by the Vice President since the start of this administration and indeed by both of them before they came to the White House and so this is very much part of a continuum in that relationship.

        As I said at the outset, it’s hard to think of an international issue where we don't have close cooperation or collaboration or consultation at the very least with Turkey, and there’s a lot on the agenda right now.

        But I should add that really the focal point of this trip is the Entrepreneurship Summit, and that's the primary reason that the Vice President is making this trip.  It’s something that's very important to President Obama who initiated the summit here in Washington.  We see this, as Rashad said, as a very important vehicle for supporting entrepreneurship around the world, but also particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, and at a very critical time.

        And of course, in Greece we think it’s very important to show our ongoing support for Greece, for a close friend and partner as it goes through a difficult time.  

        On Turkey and Israel, yes, I suspect that that will come up.  We have in the United States longstanding strategic ties with both Israel and with Turkey.  We have been and we continue to encourage both countries to seek opportunities to move beyond the recent strains in their relationship, and we believe that opportunities are there for the two countries to fully repair relations and move forward.  

        It pains us to see the two of them at odds because they're both such close partners of the United States.  And the bottom line is that improved relations between Turkey and Israel would be good for Turkey, good for Israel and good for the United States and indeed good for the region and the world so that's something we will continue to encourage.

        Mike, did you have anything to add?

        MR. FROMAN:  No, I’d only add that Turkey is one of the better performing, faster growing economies of the world at the moment.  We are close partners in the G20, and they play a critical role in the G20.  And through that and other mechanisms, we engage in a whole range of economic, trade and investment issues.  And as Tony said, this is part of our ongoing dialogue with them.

        Q    Yes, thank you for doing this.  I wonder if you would just address this narrative that you see so much in the press that Erdogan’s government is Islamist and looking east rather than to its old friends and NATO to the west and sort of spinning out of our sphere of influence and towards Iran and some of the other regimes in the neighborhood.  You know that this sort of narrative is out there.  I wonder — I gather from your comments you think there’s a more nuanced story to tell.  Could you address that narrative in particular?

        MR. BLINKEN:  Sure.  I think it’s fair to say that Turkey has always looked to the east and the west, given its position in the world both geographically and geopolitically just as I might add the United States looks both to the Pacific and to the Atlantic.  In that sense, it’s quite similar.

        Turkey has been, remains and will be an important member of the transatlantic alliance of NATO.  That hasn’t changed.  It’s very much anchored in NATO.  

        Turkey has expanded its involvement in the Middle East through increased political engagement, trade, social and cultural relations.  But at the same time, it remains deeply engaged with the United States and our European allies.  And of course, it continues to seek accession to the European Union.  So I don't think these things are in conflict at all or in contradiction.  To the contrary, I think they complement each other.  

        Turkey has in many ways a unique role to play as a bridge between these different worlds, an ability to talk to different countries in ways that are extremely helpful.  And as I suggested earlier, its own example can be very powerful to countries now going through transition.  So it’s very encouraging to see Turkey play a strong leadership role.  We’ve seen that in Syria.  We’ve seen that Libya.  We’ve seen that in Egypt, in Afghanistan, in NATO.  And that's something that is in the interest of the United States.

        MS. BARKOFF:  Okay, thanks, all, for joining the call.  That's all we have.

        MR. BLINKEN:  Thanks very much.

END 3:29 P.M. EST

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