Press Availability in Ankara, Turkey

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Ankara, Turkey
September 12, 2014

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, thank you for being patient. I appreciate it very, very much. And good evening to all.

I’m very pleased to be back here in Turkey, where I have had a series of productive meetings through the course of the day with President Erdogan and Prime Minister Davutoglu and my new counterpart, Foreign Minister Cavusoglu, who I’ve actually gotten to know pretty well in a frequency of meetings in the last week or so beginning with the Wales summit, and then we met in Jeddah at the coalition meeting yesterday and then again today.

The importance of coming here to Turkey to follow up on the meeting yesterday should be obvious to all because we confront very significant challenges in Iraq and Syria, and obviously the border of Turkey, the numbers of refugees coming into Turkey and Turkey’s role is very, very critical. We share a partnership with Turkey that is essential, and Turkey plays a key role in bolstering security and stability in the entire region, and together we literally work to pursue those goals every single day.

There are few countries, also, that have felt the ripple effect of the crises in Syria and Iraq as much as Turkey has. Since 2011 Turkey has opened its doors to roughly 1.3 million Syrian refugees, and more recently they’ve had a huge influx of Iraqi refugees who are fleeing ISIL.

The United States and indeed the entire international community are very grateful for Turkey’s generosity in providing shelter and care, food, to these refugees. We’re committed to helping to provide relief for the millions of people who have lost their homes, their health, their dignity, in the Syrian conflict. And we have contributed very significant amounts of humanitarian assistance, and today I am proud to announce that we are going to contribute even more to the 2.9 billion that we have already contributed to the United States – to the UN since the conflict started. And today we’re announcing an additional $500 million, about 50 million of which will come here to Turkey in order to assist Turkey in providing the humanitarian assistance that I described.

Today’s announcement marks the single largest tranche of funding that we have contributed to date, and the reason for this is that this is the largest humanitarian crisis in recent history. But even with this initial assistance from the United States, the humanitarian response to the Syrian crisis remains largely underfunded. And with the international community preparing to meet in New York to convene for the annual United Nations General Assembly meetings, and with the Syrian donors conference in Kuwait on the horizon in October, we hope very, very much that other nations will follow our lead and contribute even more to improving what is unquestionably one of the worst humanitarian disasters in history.

In the meetings that we had today we also discussed the U.S. commitment to protecting Turkey’s security, sovereignty, and territorial integrity. We agreed that today ISIL is one of the greatest threats to Turkey’s security and the security of the entire region and beyond. I have reiterated the United States commitment to working with the broadest coalition of international partners possible to eliminate the ISIL threat once and for all.

So let me be very clear about the U.S.-Turkey relationship in this coalition. Turkey and the United States will stand together against any challenges in the region, including all terrorism. Within the coalition there are many ways that Turkey can help in this effort, and we will continue our conversations with our military and other experts spending time to define the specific role that Turkey will play.

In the meantime, I’m very happy to make an announcement: that the United States has asked one of our most respected and experienced military experts, General John Allen, to join the State Department to serve as Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL. In this role, General Allen will help build and sustain the coalition so it can operate across multiple lines of effort in order to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL. General Allen is a patriot and a remarkable leader. He is a Marine and by “is,” I mean “is,” because as a Navy man I have to admit that retired or not once a Marine, always a Marine. His extraordinary career in the military speaks for itself. Whether as the top commander of NATO’s ISAF forces in Afghanistan during a critical period from 2011-2013, or as a deputy commander in Anbar during the Sunni awakening, or as a thinker, scholar, and teacher at the U.S. Naval Academy. And he has done significant public service out of uniform since he returned to civilian life. His commitment to country and to service has really been enduring.

Most recently we worked together very closely in designing new approaches to meet the long-term security needs of the state of Israel, and I could not be more pleased than to have General Allen coming on board now fulltime at the State Department. He’ll be joined by a terrific team, including Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Brett McGurk who is here with us now, who will serve as General Allen’s deputy senior envoy with the rank of ambassador. Not only has Brett been back and forth to Baghdad and Erbil almost every single month this past year, but he has also spent a number of years over the past decade posted in Iraq as a top advisor to three different ambassadors. And he has been a partner to even more. He’s one of our most – our foremost experts really on Iraq, and he will be integral to this effort’s success. And both General Allen and Ambassador McGurk will work very closely with Assistant Secretary of State Anne Patterson, who is not just a three-time ambassador and an ambassador of recent time to both Pakistan and to Egypt, but also one of our nation’s top diplomats deeply respected in the region, and she will continue to lead our diplomacy throughout the Middle East.

So we have a superb team in place to lead our work in the coalition to take on ISIL and to help the innocent people of Iraq and Syria and elsewhere to be able to rebuild their lives. And we will continue to consult closely with our partners In the days and weeks ahead, including in the very near term at the UN General Assembly later this month where Foreign Minister Cavusoglu and I will co-chair the fifth ministerial meeting of the Global Counterterrorism Fund and one of the biggest contributors to the ISIL threat happens to be the steady flow of foreign fighters making their way into Iraq and Syria in order to fight alongside ISIL. These people who are deciding to make that choice to go there and fight are men and women who regrettably carry passports from countries all over the world, which entitles them therefore to travel without a visa.

So a primary focus of that taskforce meeting in New York at UNGA will be on building the political and the financial support throughout the international community in order to track, stop, and prevent foreign fighters from joining ISIL.

Let me close by again thanking the Government of Turkey for their ongoing partnership, not only on Syria and Iraq but also on the other areas that we discussed today. We had a very broad discussion about the region, including some of the frozen conflicts and other challenges that we face, and particularly about Libya, with an agreement that we will all meet again in New York at the United Nations General Assembly with a broader group of people in order to focus on the Libya situation.

We look forward to continuing our work with Turkey and with others in order to promote peace, security, and stability in this region, as well as around the world. And we particularly look forward to the efforts in the days ahead to define and finalize the steps that each country will take in concert with others in order to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL.

I’d be happy to take a few questions.

MS. PSAKI: The first question is from Barbara Plett of BBC.

QUESTION: Thanks. Mr. Kerry, could you tell us what specific commitments Turkey has made as part of its role in the coalition? And in particular, could you clarify the status of the Incirlik base? Will the Americans be allowed to use the base to launch military operations in this campaign or have the Turks said no, you can’t?

And then a completely different question to round this up. We have reports on American networks that the Foley family was pressured by the U.S. Government, including the State Department, not to pay ransom. Is that true?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, let me deal, first of all, with the question of not just Turkey but any country at this point. It is entirely premature and frankly inappropriate at this point in time to start laying out one country by one country what individual nations are going to do. We are, as I said, continuing the conversation because this needs to be coordinated and there needs to be clear definition and a lot of details are being worked out by the experts in each of the sectors where they need to be worked out – that includes financial, closing off routes of finance, which involves treasury departments and finance ministers of various countries. The intel community obviously has a component in this, the Department of Defense has a component in it, the State Department, in terms of diplomacy and communications, and all of that is being coordinated. That’s precisely why I announced General John Allen today and Ambassador Brett McGurk, who will assume their roles immediately to help coordinate that.

At the appropriate time, every role will be laid out in detail, but I can tell you that the full range of activities that are necessary, that President Obama articulated in his speech are being addressed and all of the participants are defining the ways in which they’re going to contribute to this effort to degrade and defeat ISIL.

Let me just say that I am really taken aback – surprised, I guess, is the word, by this comment with respect to the Foley family. And I can tell you that I am totally unaware and would not condone anybody that I know of within the State Department making such statements. So I don’t know about it. But I will tell you this: Diane Foley and John Foley are extraordinary people. They’re an extraordinary family. And she did an amazing job on behalf of her family to try to do everything possible, leaving no stone unturned in order to try to bring Jim back safely. I worked previously in the effort to help Jim get freed when he was previously taken hostage. And everybody is heartbroken that we were not able to do it.

I and others in the government worked as hard as we know how to reach out to country after country – dozens of countries were talked to in an effort to try to create some avenue of success. And as everybody knows, President Obama ordered a risky but very important and necessary effort to try to rescue these hostages. I sat through that mission, watching every moment of it, waiting for word of a rescue and holding our breath because our people were on the ground performing very difficult tasks.

Tragically, obviously, we were not successful in finding them. So my heart goes out to the family. I know how difficult this is, and all I can say to you is I know of no one who issued such a construction. I have no knowledge of it.

MS. PSAKI: All right. The next question will be from Nicolas Revise from AFP.

QUESTION: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary. I’d like to ask you about ISIL in Iraq and Syria. Who is on board with the United States among its European partners, not only for military action in Iraq but also for possible strikes in Syria? We have conflicting report of statements already from the British about what they are willing to do in Syria, and we have not very clear position from the French saying that they are ready to, if needed, to strike in Iraq but not in Syria. So what kind of military assistance can you expect from your European allies, or are you going to continue to take action alone?

And related to the – if I may, to the upcoming conference in Paris, there is no consensus yet on Iran’s presence. Is the U.S. going to accept to have Iran at the table to continue your diplomatic conversation, or is the U.S. opposing to Iran’s presence in Paris? Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, again, let me repeat what I said earlier with respect to any announcements about countries. I think France has publicly made clear its willingness to take action in Iraq, as you said, and to use force. And there are other countries that are currently making up their minds, making decisions. But as I said a moment ago with respect to Turkey and other countries, it’s just not appropriate to start laying out, as we are in the process of talking to all these countries, which country is doing what. Next week I’ll be testifying before Congress and we’ll have more of the reports back in as others are talking to various countries and we’ll have a better sense of where we stand on that.

I will tell you this: More than 40 countries had already offered assistance of one kind or another before I left Washington. And those are the – that’s the work that we had done in the previous days in communicating with a host of countries around the world. I think Australia has made it clear that it’s prepared to do things, Canada’s prepared to do things, other countries. But we will lay out what country is doing what, who’s doing what within the coalition, when we have the work done that we just hired General John Allen and Brett McGurk to do. And we will continue to coordinate effectively over the course of the next days.

I have been very, very pleased by the meetings that we’ve had. I read a report today suggesting somehow that there was less than a full-throated measure of support from the Arab nations that were there yesterday. I just don’t agree with that. Last night, I sat for two and a half hours with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, and we could not have heard a more fulsome commitment to doing anything that is necessary going forward. Similarly, I have heard that and you heard it yesterday and reiterated by other countries who signed the communique in the course of yesterday. And there are others who will continue to sign up over the course of the next days.

So I’m comfortable that this will be a broad-based coalition with Arab nations, European nations, the United States, others contributing to every single different facet of what President Obama laid out as a strategy and fully embracing the need to degrade and destroy ISIL.

MS. PSAKI: Thanks, everyone.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) with respect to Iran?

SECRETARY KERRY: No one has called me and asked me with respect to the presence of Iran, but I think under the circumstances, at this moment in time, it would not be right for any number of reasons. It would not be appropriate, given the many other issues that are on the table with respect to their engagement in Syria and elsewhere. But – so that would be my answer, but I haven’t been asked with respect – and I don’t know specifically where that stands in terms of the French invitations.

QUESTION: Would you mind if I did a quick follow-up on that? I know it’s against the rules, but --

MS. PSAKI: You just did an entire interview yesterday. I think we can --

QUESTION: Well, I mean, I’m sorry, but this has been an issue with Iran that has gone on with many of these types of conferences. I mean, I understand that they – that you have problems with their behavior, but don’t you think engaging them is part of --

SECRETARY KERRY: We are engaged with Iran. We’re engaged in a very deep, serious conversation about their nuclear program with high hopes that it will be possible to change the relationship through an agreement that would meet the international standards that have been set at the United Nations and the questions that have been raised not just at the UN, but by the International Atomic Energy Association[1]. So it’s not the United States; it’s the world that is asking serious questions about Iran’s nuclear program.

Now, Iran has been deeply involved with its forces on the ground in Syria. IRGC forces are on the ground. So there would have to be much greater clarity and understanding of exactly what the purpose was and what the meaning was of any kind of presence, which is the only thing that stands in the way, as well as they’re a state sponsor of terror in various places.

So these are serious issues, and that’s why they need to be approached in a proper way, not a conference like this at this moment, but through a process which we are entirely prepared over a period of time to engage in, or we wouldn’t be engaged in the negotiations that we’re engaged in today.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Thanks, everyone.

QUESTION: Would you boycott if they were invited?

STAFF: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Thank you, everyone.

SECRETARY KERRY: I’m not going to answer hypotheticals.

QUESTION: Do you oppose them just --

STAFF: Thanks, everybody. Thank you very much.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Thank you.

QUESTION: -- being in this conference or the coalition as a whole. Are you opposed to them being – just being in this conference or in the coalition?

SECRETARY KERRY: There’s no issue with the coalition. That’s not even been raised.

[1] International Atomic Energy Agency