Press Availability at Brookings Institute

Press Availability
Philip H. Gordon
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs
Washington, DC
March 17, 2010

Moderator: Let’s go right ahead to the press conference. Maybe we should give a chance to our friends coming from Turkey first.

Question: First let me ask you where you see the protocols moving forward to the, what do you call it, the vote [inaudible]? It still seems like they’re pretty much dead for now. I mean how would you go about pushing them forward?

Assistant Secretary Gordon: Thank you. Let me first say it’s nice to be here. Apologies for being a little bit late.

You asked an important question. The protocols are important to us because the process of normalization between Turkey and Armenia is important to us. We have encouraged both sides to ratify them ever since they were signed on October 10th in the presence of Secretary Clinton and others. They obviously haven’t yet been ratified, but we are continuing to urge both parties to do so. President Obama spoke with President Gul on the phone about two weeks ago and encouraged as rapid a ratification as possible. And we’re going to continue to do so because we think that this is just simply in the interest of both countries, and it would be a step towards a region of normalized relations, open borders, trade and reconciliation. So we’re absolutely committed to that process and want it to move forward.

I acknowledge that the process is not moving forward as quickly as we would like, but my sense is that both countries remain committed to it. However many difficulties and obstacles have been in the way, and we need to be honest and acknowledge that there have been some. I really think that both countries’ leaderships are committed to doing this and we’re going to do everything we can to help it along.

Question: I was wondering if you saw any more personal involvement by Secretary Clinton in the near future to push it along. And then secondly, if you could speak about what kind of damage you think was done to the relationship in the short and medium term from the passage by the House committee of the genocide resolution, whether you think it’s going to go to a full House vote, and what the potential consequences for this, not just for the bilateral relationship but for all the specific areas that Turkey’s helping on the Middle East, on Iran and on Afghanistan.

Assistant Secretary Gordon: As for Secretary Clinton’s involvement in the future, she will absolutely be involved. She has been intensely involved in this set of issues from the start. I think she has pointed that out herself when she testified to Congress and noted how frequently she has engaged with the leaders of both countries. She has been regularly seeing them, phoning them, she knows the issue thoroughly and has been again extensively involved. And because she’s so committed to this process and issue, yes, I can be absolutely clear that she’s going to continue to be very much involved and do all she can to bring about what I just described a minute ago as a strong interest of the United States which is the completion and the development of the normalization process.

Then you asked about the impact of the House Foreign Affairs Committee vote on relations with Turkey. Look, obviously Turkey withdrew its Ambassador, made very critical comments about the House vote. Clearly that wasn’t helpful to the bilateral relationship. That relationship is too important to break. We regretted that the Ambassador was withdrawn because we want to remain engaged with Turkey. We would like to see the Ambassador here. We think he should be here making the case for, making Turkey’s case on this set of issues. We welcome hearing from him. But we’re very much engaged with Turkey on the full range of issues. I’ll talk about this in my remarks.

So sure, it’s a setback to the relationship. It wasn’t helpful to the relationship that we have and are trying to build. But we’re going to move forward. We have too much to do with Turkey not to do so.

Question: A quick follow up. Do you anticipate -- Have you seen a kind of pull-back in that type of cooperation or the cooperation is continuing but just the tone is unhelpful?

Assistant Secretary Gordon: I don’t see any of the substantive areas where we’re working together -- and there is a long list of them -- where the cooperation has stopped. So the Ambassador has gone and Turkey has sent a clear message with that, but we’re still working together across the world.

Question: Secretary Gordon, the administration, the White House, didn’t come out against that resolution in the committee until the day it was brought up on that Thursday. What was the strategy behind waiting so long?

Assistant Secretary Gordon: I think the administration’s position on this issue has been quite clear from the start. The opposition to the resolution that Secretary Clinton, Secretary Gates have expressed is consistent with where the administration has been from the start, which is focused on the normalization process, and not wanting to see anything that would impede that process.

So that’s why we have made it clear that resolutions such as this one interfere with that important process, and we oppose it.

Question: But there was no real -- I was talking to members of the committee and they said that they had heard nothing from the administration, no calls to the committee to try to get them to back off, there was no lobbying by the administration on this.

Question: [Inaudible]

Moderator: Please everyone use the mic.

Assistant Secretary Gordon: I understand that. As I said, I think our position on this issue has been both clear and consistent for more than a year, ever since the administration came into office starting with President Obama’s comments in April last year, and consistently right on through. Secretary Gates publically addressed the issue about a week before the House vote. Secretary Clinton testified on a separate set of issues in the budget but it came up and she made clear that our focus, the administration’s focus was on the protocols, normalization, and moving forward. And I think that the House committee was very well aware of the administration’s position on the issue. The Secretary called Chairman Berman the night before the vote and since then we have reiterated what has been a clear and consistent position all along which has been that we’re focused on the bilateral relationship between the two countries and we think that the best way to deal with historical issues and the tensions between them is through that process. That’s why we encourage it, and that’s why we discourage any efforts in Congress or elsewhere that would set that process back.

Question: There have been some claims out of the State Department that there’s a deal with the House leadership that the resolution won’t go any further. Is that your understanding?

Assistant Secretary Gordon: No. There’s no deal. The Congress is an independent body and they’re going to do what they decide to do, so that’s not accurate.

Question: [Inaudible] …on the past withdrawal of the Turkish Ambassador from Washington, as far as I know in the U.S.-Turkey bilateral relationship this is the first time the Turkish Ambassador will be absent by a conscious decision from Ankara for such a long time. As far as I know, the AKP deputies are telling me that Mr. Tan will not be returning to Washington until after April 24th, so this is significant. And I hear you that you said that you regret that Turkey withdrew its Ambassador. You said that we’d like to engage. But on that note, I’d like to -- It is my observation that in Washington we use the word “engagement” for the capitals like Damascus and Tehran, but not for Berlin, London or Paris. That is one observation that I’d like to take your attention and want to hear how you reflect on it.

The second one is how significant it is that Turkey withdrew its Ambassador from your standpoint [inaudible], and how do you see the Turkish Prime Minister’s approach to it? And him tying it to conditions in order to send the Ambassador back to Washington, will you be able to give those assurances to the Prime Minister?

Assistant Secretary Gordon: Thank you. First, I’m not sure it’s true that this is the first time that Turkey’s withdrawn its Ambassador in such circumstances. I think there actually is --

Question: No, no, I’m talking about the duration. This isn’t the first time. In 2007 it was the same thing. But I’m talking about the duration of the absence of the Ambassador.

Assistant Secretary Gordon: Okay. We can speculate in the future about duration, but so far this is consistent with what has happened in previous cases. But be that as it may, and however long he stays away, as I said, we do regret it. We want Turkey to be present. We think Turkey would benefit from having its Ambassador here to make the case for Turkey on the set of issues. We see no benefit in Ambassador Tan not being in Washington. Indeed, we see negative consequences of that, so that’s why we regret it and we would welcome him back whenever he wants to come back.

Let me also say that I do feel we are engaged with Britain and France and Germany and other countries. I wouldn’t make some distinction between the language that we use. When we say we want the Ambassador here because we want to engage with Turkey, we would say the same thing if one of the countries you mentioned wasn’t here. Engagement means consistent dialogue about the issues that we’re dealing with. We want to have that with Turkey. We do have it with Turkey. We could have it a little bit better if the Ambassador were here. So there’s no distinction in the way that we see it with Turkey. Again, I think this is all pretty clear and straightforward and we look forward to him coming back as soon as Turkey feels it’s appropriate to send him back.

Question: Recent [inaudible] statement by the Turkish Prime Minister, Prime Minister Erdogan. I don’t have the exact quoting with me, but I think he said things to the effect that the Turkish government may decide to expel or deport almost 100,000 citizens that are Armenian living in Turkey. Can you comment on that?

Assistant Secretary Gordon: I don’t think he said it that way. I think he pointed to the fact, or at least what he considers to be a fact that there are some 100,000 illegal Armenian residents in Turkey. He did point to that, but I don’t believe that he threatened any expulsion. He brought that issue up. Regardless of precisely his language, I think that these are two separate issues.

Every country has an issue of immigration, illegal immigration to deal with and they should do so according to their laws in an appropriate way, and it should really have nothing to do with the House of Representatives or any vote that might happen in the United States, so that I think we can be clear about. Whatever the issue of illegal immigration, let us not link it somehow to what the U.S. Congress might choose to do.

Question: On the 12th and 14th of April there is another meeting here where the Prime Minister was invited and he has declared that he is not coming. Do you bind it with the latest tension, let’s say, escalation? Would it be better if he would come over here during that summit?

Assistant Secretary Gordon: You’re referring to the Nuclear Security Summit that’s going to take place in mid April. Turkey, Prime Minister Erdogan have been invited. We don’t have a formal response on who will attend from Turkey, but we would be delighted to see the Prime Minister come. He’s been invited, and yes, we’d like to see him come.

Question: I was hoping you could talk a little bit about Turkish relations with Iran. Is the United States satisfied that Turkey is being cooperative with the international efforts on the Iranian nuclear program? And to what degree would any eventual Turkish vote on the Security Council on a sanctions resolution be read as a signal of how willing Turkey is to be a part of the West in the future?

Assistant Secretary Gordon: This is one of the many important issues on which we are engaged with Turkey and want to be engaged with Turkey, and that’s why we want the Ambassador here and to continue talking about these things because it’s such an important issue.

We are convinced, I have no doubt that Turkey shares our goal of avoiding an Iran with nuclear weapons capability. There’s no question about that. We’ve spoken to the Turks at the highest levels about this issue. We do have some differences in how to approach this issue.

We regretted Turkey’s abstention in late November at the IAEA when so many of the other world’s powers and Security Council members and Europeans came together to criticize Iran for its lack of transparency and lack of cooperation on the nuclear issue. Since then we’ve seen even less cooperation from Iran. Agreement in principle to deal with the Tehran research reactor and meet again with the P5+1 and deal with the site in Qom, all of that has not been followed up, and we’re very disappointed in that. We think that the international community needs to be clear about that, and that’s why we’re taking it to the UN, and at the Security Council there is widespread support for a new resolution, making clear that there are consequences to Iran for its lack of cooperation. We are very clear about that and we think we have widespread cooperation among many key actors in the international community.

Turkey has been reluctant to get on board with such an approach and that’s where we have a disagreement. I think it is fine to want to have good relations with all your neighbors, and it is fine to want to find a way out of this impasse. But at a certain point you have to call a spade a spade. Iran’s human rights record is terrible, and its record on responding to what we think are practical proposals from the international community on the nuclear issue is also terrible. We would like to see Turkey join us and other key players in the international scene in making clear to Iran that there are consequences for such behavior.

I’ll repeat. Our offers of cooperation with Iran remain on the table. We also want to work with Iran on a diplomatic solution to this issue. We think that our diplomatic approach would be reinforced if Turkey were willing to join the rest of the international community in making clear to Iran that there are consequences for its lack of cooperation.

Question: Are there consequences if Turkey doesn’t get on board?

Assistant Secretary Gordon: I think that many would be disappointed if Turkey is an exception to an international consensus on dealing with Iran. I think that Turkey wants to be an important, responsible actor on the international scene, and I think joining the majority of the Security Council in doing this would reinforce that image of Turkey. I think that not doing so would not contribute to that positive outcome that we want to see.

Question: But would there be consequences?

Assistant Secretary Gordon: I think that’s a consequence.

Moderator: We are under some time pressure and as I said you will have an opportunity for Q&A after the lecture, so Mr. Assistant Secretary, thank you for your time.

Assistant Secretary Gordon: Thank you very much.

# # # #