Interview With Mehmet Ali Birand of Kanal D TV

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Ankara, Turkey
March 7, 2009

QUESTION: Madame Secretary of State, thank you for your time. I know it’s very limited, so it’s going to be a very disorderly interview. (Laughter.) I’m going to jump from one question to another without the – now, the big news you brought us is President Obama’s coming visit to Turkey. Now, I wonder, is the President going to come to Turkey as a NATO ally, or as an ally – Islamic country to address the Islamic world from here? What will be --

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first of all, I am delighted that President Obama will come to Turkey. Ten years ago, my husband and I were together here in Turkey, and we were received so warmly by the Turkish people, and I know that President and Mrs. Obama will as well.

He’s coming as an ally, a partner, and a friend representing the United States of America, which we believe is all of that with Turkey. We have been good allies in NATO. We have been partners in areas like Afghanistan and fighting terrorism. And we have been friends. There is the biggest increase in Turkish and American students visiting the other’s country. In fact, I learned today that American and Turkish young people are number and two in using Facebook.

SECRETARY CLINTON: So, we have a lot in common, and I think the President wants to illustrate that commitment as we start our new Administration.

QUESTION: Is he going to give this message to the Islamic world from Istanbul?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, that hasn’t been decided. But by coming to Turkey, he’s going to be speaking to the Turkish people. And Turkey, as everyone knows, is a model democracy with a secular constitution that shows Islam can coexist with both. So I think that’s a great example.

QUESTION: Interesting. Now, how do you qualify Turkey today? I mean, previous administrations used the terminology “moderate Islam.” Now, will you be using the same terminology? Is it --

SECRETARY CLINTON: No. We’re not going to characterize any country’s religious affiliation. We’re looking for an opportunity to strengthen and deepen our relationship with Turkey.

Turkey is many things. Turkey has many aspects to it. What I love about Turkey is the vibrancy of the society and the democracy. The fact that Turkey is a predominantly, but not exclusively Muslim nation, that there are varying levels of society that are moving forward together, we find all of that very exciting. So we want our relationship to be with the Turkish people.

QUESTION: You are putting the emphasis on democracy - secularism. Now, do you have any doubt that Turkey might go or tilt more to Islamic values, to Islamic world? Do you have any doubt, or what would be your reaction?

SECRETARY CLINTON: You know, my view is that Turkey has proven to be a reliable ally and partner and, as I like to think, friend. I know right now that the Turkish people are somewhat negative about America, I would argue, because of some of the decisions of the last eight years.

I remember very well when my husband and I were here in ’99. The Turkish people were very positive about America. That’s what we want again. Because we think we have so much in common, and the role that Turkey is playing as a regional and global leader on important issues is something that we’re very supportive of. So we hope to increase the relationship’s positive feelings again between the Turkish and American people. But our government-to-government relation is strong, and we will build on that.

QUESTION: Now, I’m going to ask you a question, maybe about your talk with the prime minister. I’m going to ask this question because he said that –he said openly that he would ask you. Did Mr. Erdogan complain about the State Department’s Human Rights Report? Because in this report he was criticized about his threats to freedom of press and some pressure to some media groups. Did he complain about this before?

SECRETARY CLINTON: He raised it with me and --

QUESTION: Oh, I don’t believe it.

SECRETARY CLINTON: No, he did, and that’s what friends do. You know, it would not be an honest relationship if he had a criticism and wouldn’t raise it with me. I would worry about that. You know, I’ve known the prime minister since 1996 when he was mayor of Istanbul, and I’ve seen him several times in New York when I attended break-fast for Eid. And so I have a great deal of respect for him and what he’s trying to do in Turkey.

QUESTION: What was your reaction?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, my reaction is that we put out this report every year, and I fully understand. You know, look, I was in politics, and no politician ever likes the press criticizing them. I understand that because I lived through it. But overall, we think that Turkey has made tremendous progress in freedom of speech and freedom of religion and human rights, and we’re proud of that.

QUESTION: You say it’s a must for – as far as this report indicator it’s a must – freedom of the press is a must as long as --

SECRETARY CLINTON: It’s part of a vibrant democracy. As much as those of us in public life complain about you and the press, it’s a combination that --

QUESTION: Are you complaining ?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Not me, no, I’m not complaining. (Laughter.) But I understand it. I’m not complaining because you’re not an American journalist. (Laughter.) But I understand that it’s just a natural tension, but it’s a necessary tension.

QUESTION: Now, let’s get to the Kurdish problem a little bit. Now the worry here is that with withdrawal of some armaments and ammunition might be gone to PKK’s hands. Do you have any contingency with this, one?

And second one, now you are withdrawing from Iraq. There will be a vacuum of power, especially around northern Iraq. And we have a PKK problem; the common enemy, you have said yourself. Do you have an initiative or a plan to solve this problem –I’m talking about terrorism and the Kurdish problem. Do you have an initiative? I mean, what – who should do what – Turkey and northern Iraqis?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, you’re right; we consider PKK a common enemy. And our military has cooperated with the Turkish military to prevent PKK activity and incursions from the north of Iraq into Turkey, and we will continue to cooperate. We are just beginning our planning with respect to the withdrawal. The President made the announcement after careful study. So we will withdraw. How we do it and how we protect against, as you say, a vacuum is something we’re going to consult with Turkey over and have our militaries, who are, after all, allies in NATO, work those through together.

QUESTION: I’m told that the interview is over.

SECRETARY CLINTON: It’s gone by too fast.

QUESTION: Well, yeah, it’s going – you are great. I mean, I was afraid that I’m going to get to maybe two more questions. Now, if you were to name three issues where Turkey will be helpful, which one are they? Pakistan? Palestine? Iran? Which one are the most important?

SECRETARY CLINTON: It’s all three. And that’s what’s so important about Turkey’s role. The leadership role that Turkey is now playing is not limited the way maybe it was in the past. What Turkey did in helping us in Afghanistan --

QUESTION: Do you want more troops in Afghanistan?

SECRETARY CLINTON: You know, we are going to discuss that, and that’s something that will be up to the Turkish Government. But I remember the first time I went to Afghanistan as a senator in 2003, I was met by a Turkish general. And Turkish soldiers have been very courageous and have fought and died with American soldiers in Afghanistan. We agree that Pakistan is very fragile, and we both have to work there. I applaud what Turkey did in creating the Syria-Israel track. That was an enormously helpful effort. Once there’s an Israeli government, we have to go on both a Syria track and a Palestinian track. And we need Turkey’s leadership in helping the United States push for a comprehensive peace plan that includes a two-state solution.

And with Iran, you know the Iranians better than we do. You have shared a border for – I think I was told over 350 or so years. So we are going to ask for your help in trying to influence Iranian behavior.

QUESTION: What about Hamas. Are you happy that Turkey has a very close relationship with Hamas?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, clearly, Turkey is committed to a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And the Arab League and the Quartet, of which we are both members of one of those, have said that Hamas should recognize Israel, should renounce violence, and should agree to comply with all the prior agreements entered into by the PLO.

Any influence that can turn Hamas away from Iranian influence and toward a more peaceful approach to resolving the conflict is helpful.

QUESTION: So role of Turkey is a facilitator or a mediator?


QUESTION: Which one is it? Facilitator or mediator?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I think, and depending upon the case, it’s both.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. It’s great. And are you happy with the visit? Because the echoes are really very, very positive.

SECRETARY CLINTON: My only problem is it’s too short.

PRN: 2009/T2-24