Keynote Remarks to the Assembly of Turkish American Associations' Annual Turkish American Conference

Amanda Sloat
Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs
Washington, DC
April 12, 2014

Thank you for inviting me to speak to you today. I’m delighted to be here and happy to see such a good turnout this early on a Saturday. I hope ATAA provided some strong Turkish coffee for everyone. Congratulations to the organizers of this conference for a successful first two days. I know that ATAA’s goal is “to build a strong and united Turkish American Community through civic engagement and public advocacy education.” And for 34 years, this annual conference has been successfully contributing to that mission.

I bring you best regards from Ambassador Ricciardone, a good friend of ATAA – I know the feeling is mutual – who wishes he could be here today. When Ambassador Ricciardone was with you last year, he spoke about “mutual benefit in our common cause.” The Turkish-American relationship has grown so much since ATAA’s founding in 1980 – more dynamic, more engaged, more multi-faceted. But at its core still lies our common cause – rooted in our security, our prosperity, and our people to people connections.

Let me say a few words about each of these ties that bind our strong friendship. First, we recognize Turkey’s important role in maintaining global security. Our strong bilateral security partnership has long been the bedrock of our relationship. As a bridge between Europe and the Middle East, and as a vital NATO partner, Turkey occupies a unique and important position – particularly during this turbulent time in the region. That is why sustained contact between the United States and Turkey at all levels is so important.

At the top of our list of shared strategic priorities is Syria, as the United States shares the Turkish Government’s desire to find a political solution to end this tragic conflict. We are deeply appreciative of Turkey’s willingness to accept over 800,000 refugees – generosity that I saw firsthand when I visited Gaziantep last fall. Of the $1.7 billion the U.S. has contributed to help displaced Syrians, $127 million has gone to Turkey. We will continue to work closely with Turkey in addressing the humanitarian, political and security challenges from the war in Syria.

Cyprus is another area where are working closely with Turkey. We appreciate the constructive role that Turkey – as well as Greece and other parties – are playing in the UN-facilitated peace process. The reunification of Cyprus as a bizonal, bicommunal federation would not simply solve a political problem that has persisted for far too long. It would also resonate far beyond the island, having a positive effect across the entire Eastern Mediterranean region.

In addition, Turkey has made significant contributions within the NATO alliance to address the many challenges we face together: from hosting a key radar as part of a NATO missile defense system, to providing support for operations in Kosovo and off the Horn of Africa, to demonstrating solidarity with the Alliance on the situation in Ukraine. Turkey is also paying it forward, playing an active role in training Libyan and Afghan forces in order to help those governments provide security for their people. In Afghanistan, Turkey has been a leader in NATO’s ISAF mission and has committed to maintain its support for the Afghan Government even after the ISAF mission comes to a close later this year.

Let me turn now to the second pillar of our relationship, our strong economic ties. With the 17th largest economy in the world, Turkey represents an immense growth market for U.S. companies. While Turkey still has large agriculture and textile sectors, today’s Turkey is pushing the envelope through the development of new sectors like automotives, construction, and electronics. And Turkish companies are growing more competitive internationally as well. No audience knows better than you the enormous potential of U.S.-Turkey trade.

We are both committed to further developing our bilateral trade and investment. We are aiming to do what it takes to strengthen the business ties that create more prosperity, innovation and jobs in both countries. And we need the help of people like you to create more bridges between the two markets, to promote U.S. goods and investment in Turkey – and vice versa, and to serve as ambassadors of industry.

As many of you know, the United States and European Union have launched negotiations for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. We are well aware of concerns in Turkey about the potential impact of TTIP on Turkey, given its Customs Union with the EU. As a result, the United States and EU remain in constant contact with Turkey on the status of negotiations. We also established a mechanism – the bilateral High-Level Committee, led by Mike Froman for the U.S. – to address TTIP and many other issues in our trade relationship. The next meeting, which will be in May, provides an opportunity to update Turkey on the talks, listen to their concerns, and discuss ways to expand our economic relationship.

As the U.S. Government continues working to strengthen our economic ties with Turkey, we have to acknowledge that some political events over the past few months in Turkey have been troubling. As international business leaders, you know how critical media freedom, rule of law and good governance are in creating a positive investment climate. Actions that undermine the rule of law send a very negative signal to current and potential investors and traders.

We are deeply concerned about allegations of political interference in the judicial system, and we have made clear that corruption charges should be investigated impartially. We are also concerned with restrictions on Internet freedom in Turkey, such as the government’s recent ban of Twitter and YouTube. We welcome the court decision to allow Turkish citizens to access these social media platforms. As my boss - Assistant Secretary Victoria Nuland - said in her inaugural speech to the Atlantic Council, we “stand on the side of those Turks who want more openness, more press freedom, want accountable government, [and we] will never be shy about saying that.” At the same time, she rightly noted that, “The beauty of our alliance is [that] we can be honest when we disagree.”

Finally, let me turn to arguably the most important pillar of our relationship. On this – the day of the ATAA conference dedicated to the Turkish-American relationship – it should be said that people to people connections are the lifeblood of the Turkish-American bond. Since the last ATAA conference, President Obama welcomed Prime Minister Erdogan to the White House, while Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Davutoglu have held countless meetings and phone calls. Lisa Monaco, the President’s Advisor on Homeland Security, Deputy Secretary Burns, and Deputy Secretary Higginbottom each visited Turkey last month. As we speak, Deputy Prime Minister Babacan is here in Washington for meetings on the global finance system. This sustained, high-level engagement exemplifies the breadth and depth of our bilateral partnership.

These connections occur on all levels, from Cabinet Secretaries to students. Turkey sends more university student to the United States than any other European country. The 10th highest in the world. The hunger for international exchange and experience is evident in the Turkish students on campuses from Boston to Berkeley. There may even be a few new Turkish UConn fans.

More broadly, the strength of our alliance is built on interpersonal relationships like those that ATAA helps to foster. By forging commercial and social links between the United States and Turkey, groups like ATAA are the beacons of citizen diplomacy. They have the power to promote dialogue with other diaspora groups that foster deeper understanding, even when –perhaps especially when – issues rooted in historical problems are present. Americans across the board understand the value of ethnic, religious and cultural diversity.

Our governments—and our people—are engaging on everything from Syria and Iran, to investment and trade, to education and culture. As Secretary Kerry said in November, “[the] U.S. and Turkey both seek a sustainable, peaceful regional and global order rooted in good governance and democratic accountability.” This order – this common cause—is at the heart of our enduring relationship, and we will continue working with ATAA and others to sustain it. Congratulations on all your successes and on this excellent conference.

Thank you.