Press Availability in Istanbul, Turkey

John Kerry
Secretary of State
The Conrad Hotel
Istanbul, Turkey
April 21, 2013

The video below is available with closed captioning on YouTube.

SECRETARY KERRY: Good afternoon, everybody. Thank you for being here. I saw you earlier in the morning; appreciate your coming back and sharing a few moments with me so I can summarize what we’ve been doing in the course of the day. And this time I’ll hopefully take a few questions for you because I’m sure off of last night’s declarations you probably have some.

We’ve obviously had a very busy 24 hours here in Turkey, and again I want to thank our Turkish hosts, especially Foreign Minister Davutoglu, who has been just a terrific not just not host but partner in the initiatives of last night as well as the subjects we talked about today. And so I not only thank him for the hospitality of Turkey, but I thank him for the enormous contribution that he and the Prime Minister are both making in order to try to solve a number of very difficult issues.

I had very productive conversation this morning, first of all beginning with President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority. And we discussed the meeting that I had on Monday of this past week in Washington, D.C. with the Quartet representative Tony Blair as well as the president of the Coca-Cola Company and some other businesspeople who are all part of our initiative to try to change life in the West Bank as rapidly as possible, create some transformative economic initiatives. And they are engaged in that, and I discussed those with President Abbas, obviously because it so affects him and his people and is critical to the finding of a two-state solution.

I had a prolonged and constructive discussion with Foreign Minister Davutoglu about the way forward. But before I do, let me just say a few words about last night so I can bring you up to speed on that. I think the meeting between – well, first of all, we talked about the importance of completing the task with respect to the renewal of relationships between Turkey and Israel. That was an important and courageous choice and decision made by the Prime Minister of Israel to move forward in that relationship, and I believe both Prime Minister Erdogan and Foreign Minister Davutoglu are deeply committed to fulfilling all of the obligations of that understanding, and I think that they are committed to doing so. Tomorrow there’ll be a meeting that begins to continue down that road, and I look forward to a fruitful completion of that initiative.

I also talked briefly with the Foreign Minister about the importance of full religious freedom, which he is – practiced today, which the country embraces, and our hopes that the Halki Seminary will be able to open at the appropriate time. We discussed the constitutional hurdles and the way that they’re trying to work through that. But I’ll be visiting with the Ecumenical Patriarch shortly, and I think that there is a constructive way forward and I hope that can happen.

We came to Turkey yesterday most importantly to join with other foreign ministers from the Core Group supporters of the Syrian opposition in order to outline our vision – the support group – but also to hear and listen to the Syrian opposition outline their vision for the future of their country and for the important principles that were affirmed last night of pluralism, of the equality of all Syrians, of the effort to reject extremism, and most importantly to recognize the shared goal, the most important goal of trying to find a political resolution to end the killing, to end the destruction, and to keep Syria whole. That was a critical commitment by all parties, and I believe we’ve left here with clarity with respect to how we might try to reach out to the Russians, reach out to the others, and see if there isn’t a way to achieve that.

But absent that, we also committed to raise our assistance levels to the Syrian opposition in order to make it clear that we are not equivocating with respect to that commitment and that President Obama and others are deeply committed to a transition that affords the people of Syria the right to choose their future and to move away from this path of destruction which the Assad regime is wreaking on their own citizens, on their own country.

As you know, the United States, in fulfillment of our obligations with respect to supporting the opposition, committed to doubling our nonlethal aid and to giving much of that to local leaders who are trying to lay the groundwork for a stable and a democratic future. And each of the countries represented that were here yesterday all made a commitment to direct their military aid and assistance directly and uniquely, solely, through the Supreme Military Command General Idris. I think that may be one of the most important single things that was agreed on last night that can make a difference to the situation on the ground.

And so with that, I’m happy to open it up to questions and look forward to trying to clarify anything that anybody needs.

MODERATOR: The Secretary will take four questions this afternoon. The first will be from Michael Gordon of the New York Times.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, the point of expanding the nonlethal assistance to the armed wing of the Syrian opposition is to change the military balance on the ground, put pressure on Mr. Assad, and as you’ve put it, change Assad’s calculation. But the nonlethal assistance you announced in late February in Rome, the MREs and medical supplies for the Supreme Military Command, have not yet been delivered. And we’ve been told this will happen – begin to happen by the end of the month, but that will mean it’s been two months to begin to provide this support.

How quickly will this new nonlethal assistance to the Supreme Military Council be delivered? When can the opposition expect to receive it? In what concrete ways will it change the balance on the ground, and what sort of items might be provided? Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, Michael, thank you. I can’t tell you how quickly it will change things on the ground, but I can certainly try to address the question of how quickly they will get it. I can promise you that as soon as I return to Washington, which is early this next week, I’m going to press as hard as I can to make sure that this is a matter of weeks that we’re talking about. This has to happen quickly, it has to have an impact, and I’m going to do everything in my power to ensure that it does.

With respect to the last round, I think that a lot of that has reached them. Some of it hasn’t. But we discussed with our friends here in Turkey what some of the bottlenecks have been and how to break them. I am assured by Foreign Minister Davutoglu as well as by others engaged in the process of delivering those goods that that bottleneck has been broken. Secretary Bill Burns was in London the other day having the pre-meeting with Deputy Foreign Minister Sinirlioglu, and they came to some agreement on that as well as what we did further today, so I am quite confident that some of those logjams are going to be broken.

Secondly, we also agreed, because of this movement of items to General Idris, that’s going to have a profound impact particularly in the south, where some items have been coming in but there hasn’t been as good a level of coordination as perhaps there should be.

As to what kind of items we’re talking about, we’re going to converse with the Supreme Military Command and General Idris to determine what they most need. But the kinds of things, the range of kinds of things that could be involved in that would be communications equipment, vests, vision – night goggles, different kinds of things that they might be able to use more effectively, to medical supplies, certain kinds of things that would have a direct impact on their efforts in the field.

MODERATOR: The next question will come from Can Ertuna, NTV.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thank you. Regarding to your last statement, do you refer Turkey as a hub for delivering aid to Syria to Mr. Idris? And my second question would be about the peace process, ongoing peace process. How do you conceive Prime Minister Erdogan’s plans with it to Gaza? Do you think it’s going to be a constructive step in the peace process?

SECRETARY KERRY: What was the first part of the question? It was about something about General Idris?

QUESTION: Yeah, it was about the distribution of the aid to Syrian opposition. Do you think Turkey would be one of the hubs for distributing aid to the Syrian opposition?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, let me just answer that this way: I think you need to talk to Prime Minister Erdogan or the Foreign Minister to ask how they would like to be described with respect to being a hub or a contributor or whatever. That’s their decision. But have they committed to be able to be helpful in this process and make commitments to deliver supplies and so forth? The answer is yes. Every party there last night committed to provide. Now, some are providing lethal aid, some are providing nonlethal aid, and there is a division among them, but put together as a package it’s a forceful initiative that I think will be very, very helpful.

And General Idris, as I said last night, made a very impressive presentation. He could not have been more clear about his determination to separate what he and the opposition are doing from what some of the radical and extreme elements are doing. I think everybody there was impressed by his presentation both for its clarity and strength, and I think were quite confident that he is a strong leader with capacity to make a difference here.

With respect to the Prime Minister’s potential visit to Gaza, we have expressed to the Prime Minister that we really think that it would be better delayed and that it shouldn’t take place at this point in time for a number of different reasons. The Prime Minister obviously has a right to make decisions about what he does and where he goes, but it was our feeling in a constructive way that we thought that the timing of it is really critical with respect to the peace process that we’re trying to get off the ground and that we would like to see the parties begin with as little outside distraction as possible. So our sense is that it would be more helpful to wait for the right circumstances. I think the Prime Minister listened very graciously to that. I think he’s been very thoughtful and sensitive about it. If needs be, we certainly can have further conversation about it when he comes to Washington.

But I want to emphasize this: Prime Minister Erdogan and Foreign Minister Davutoglu have been enormously constructive and very, very willing to be helpful in this process, and they already have been. And we look to them as helpful contributors to the climate, to some of the potential things on the ground like the economic development program and other things. There are many ways in which Turkey could be contributing to this. As we know, Turkey was deeply involved with Prime Minister Olmert at one point in time. There were serious talks going on. Turkey was involved in those. So this is an issue that Turkey not only understands well but actually has a stake in, and we respect that and we would like to see them contribute – and I’m confident they will – to the possibilities of this process.

MODERATOR: Nicolas Revise, AFP.

QUESTION: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary. This is a question on the Palestinian. Could you tell us, Mr. Secretary, whether during your meeting with President Abbas this morning you did raise the issue of the resignation of Prime Minister Fayyad? And do you consider this resignation as a bad news for the U.S. efforts to try to bring peace between Israelis and Palestinians?

SECRETARY KERRY: That’s a very good question, Nicolas. Thank you. Let me begin by saying that I consider Salam Fayyad a personal friend and someone for whom I have enormous respect, and he has been a very, very important force in the development of a viable Palestinian Authority on the West Bank, of their security arrangements, their economic development, the transparency and accountability of their financial system and transactions. And we are sorry to see him reach a point where both his health and his energy level and his sense of ability to sort of really carry on are challenged. We’re very respectful of that. This is a good man who has worked unbelievably hard to create the full measure of a country that he is working for. So I’m sad to see him go, as is President Obama and all of us who have confidence in him.

That said, I think he would be the first to tell you, as I will tell you, that this initiative, this dream, this effort that we’re working towards, is bigger than one man. It doesn’t just depend on one person within a structure, and there are other very qualified, very experienced businesspeople, people of international reputation, people with development skills and management skills, who are capable of taking this on.

The answer to your question directly is yes, we did talk about it and we talked about the succession process and what will occur. And President Abbas made it very clear that he understands the international community’s concern and focus on the issues that I articulated earlier about accountability, transparency. And I’m confident that the President is going to find a person that he believes can fill the shoes, do the job, and work with everybody. But we are going to continue and will work, as I said, because this goal and this effort is bigger than one person. And we’re on a track, and I hope the track we’re on is one that can come to a positive place, and of course, maybe over the next weeks, month or so, where we are capable of sort of really laying out a road forward. That’s our hope. I say hope. I’m not going to express levels of optimism or qualify it. It’s a hope.

But I think President Abbas is very deeply committed to that process. Salam Fayyad will stay on for the next 35 days or more, somewhere in that vicinity. He’ll be a caretaker prime minister. There’ll be a careful transitional process. And I am convinced Salam Fayyad will continue to be involved in the development efforts and the politics of the Palestinian Authority. I have no doubt about that. So we look forward to simply moving on, continuing and beginning to work with whoever and whatever successor or structure the President puts together – President Abbas puts together.

MODERATOR: The final question will be from Nicole Gaouette from Bloomberg.

QUESTION: Hi, Mr. Secretary. Thanks for this opportunity. You talked about the importance of a rapprochement between Turkey and Israel, and I wanted to ask you about the operational benefits of that – when we will see them. And if you could also comment on reports in the Sunday Times that Israel is discussing with Turkey placing a base outside of Ankara to give them the capability to reach Iran if need be, if you could comment or confirm. Thanks.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I’m not going to comment on the latter, no. Number one, I don’t know enough about it to comment beyond public accounts; and number two, I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to comment on their as-yet-unannounced or perhaps discussed or not discussed initiatives. So I’m not going to comment on that.

With respect to the importance of these steps and where they’re going – I think that’s your question – Turkey – well, tomorrow there’s a meeting and they have an ability to sort of take the next step or lay the groundwork to take the next step. Prime Minister Erdogan is coming to visit Washington in May, in the middle of May. That will be an important next step in this ongoing dialogue. We would like to see us get to a point where we are moving on improving the situation in Gaza, which was part of the agreement that we’re going to try to make sure the goods are moving and life on the ground can improve, which we would like to see happen – all of us, Israel included – and where we are also completing the task of moving to full diplomatic relations between the countries, which would be beneficial to everybody.

I think Turkey is working in very good faith to get there. I know it’s an emotional issue with some people. I particularly say to the families of people who were lost in the incident we understand these tragedies completely and we sympathize with them. And nobody – I mean, I have just been through the week of Boston and I have deep feelings for what happens when you have violence and something happens and you lose people that are near and dear to you. It affects a community, it affects a country. We’re very sensitive to that.

But going forward, we have to find the best way to bring people together to reduce tensions and undo the stereotypes that divide people and try to make peace. If we can find a way to rebuild Germany after a war and make peace and see Germany today be an extraordinary contributor to the economy and dialogue of the world, I hope we can move even in this part of the world to break down barriers that people think can never be broke down. And Turkey can play a key role in helping us to do that. It requires two, the two parties to work together in good faith to do it. And I hope in the next few days that that’s exactly what will take place.

Now, I want to make sure that I hit – is that --

QUESTION: I actually (inaudible) address the operational benefits, like – sorry.

SECRETARY KERRY: The operational benefit?

QUESTION: I know you can’t comment on the Sunday Times article, but if there are other concrete ways that this rapprochement could help the U.S. further its policy in the region.

SECRETARY KERRY: The U.S. further its – well, look, Turkey is a NATO country, and as a NATO country Turkey is an important contributor to peace in the region. And one of the reasons that we have a Patriot battery on the border here in Turkey is because of that relationship. So clearly, if allies who have differences have suddenly put those differences aside, you have a much stronger alliance, you have a much stronger ability to be able to address other concerns you may have, and ultimately to stand up to threats that are mutual. And one of those mutual threats is Iran. So without any question, this rapprochement puts us in a position to be able to not allow us to be divided on something of as enormous consequence as the potential of a nuclear program in Iran which still has not been adequately answered.

So in counterterrorism there are benefits that we could obviously exchange. There are serious questions about what is happening in Syria and the ways in which Syria is destabilizing the entire region. And because of some of the people, the extremists who have come in to Syria, they could threaten Israel, they could threaten Turkey, they could threaten simply the integrity of the state of Syria. We have great mutual interests – Turkey, the United States, and Israel – in that security arrangement.

So there are huge reasons why it is beneficial for this rapprochement to be completed as soon as possible, because it meets all of our strategic needs and interests. That’s probably more direct. Thank you.

MODERATOR: Thank you (inaudible).

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you all very much.

PRN: 2013/T04-04