TUESDAY, MARCH 15, 2016
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
Briefer: John Kirby, Spokesperson
Spox: I’m not even going to dignify the charge
QUESTION: The message warned Americans to stay away from the – from Ankara’s center due to potential terrorist attack.
MR KIRBY: Right.
QUESTION: The notice issued by your embassy widely criticized by the people in Turkey. Even some of them said that the U.S. Government is on the side of the PKK, the militants. So could you please clarify that? Did the embassy run this notice without getting information, intelligence from Turkish officials? Did they get the information from Turks?
MR KIRBY: I’ve heard this interesting little rumor. Let me just put a fork in it right now. The information that we shared with the public about the concerns – the security concerns we had – which is our obligation; we have to do that – was received by Turkish authorities. I mean, it was because we have a good information sharing arrangement with Turkey that allowed us to issue this warning. So Turkish authorities very much were a source for this kind of information. And I’m not even going to dignify the charge that the United States is in any way cooperating or assisting or condoning the actions of groups like the PKK, which we’ve said before is a Foreign Terrorist Organization. It is absolutely ridiculous.
QUESTION: So the Turks usually share in information all the time with you – with the embassy?
MR KIRBY: We have – look, you can understand I’m not going to get into a great amount of detail about the sharing of information and intelligence. What I can tell you is in this case the information that we – that permitted us to provide that notice was information that came from, obviously, many sources, but the Turkish authorities helped us develop the information we needed to issue that warning. And it’s good that we did. That’s what we’re supposed to do.
What do you think it says about the atmosphere in Turkey
QUESTION: What do you think it says about the atmosphere in Turkey that pro-government newspapers and commentators would leap to conspiracy theories like the one you just tried to shoot down?
MR KIRBY: I --
QUESTION: This is, after all, a NATO ally of yours.
MR KIRBY: It is. And they still are.
MR KIRBY: And it’s a relationship that remains strong in the face of these sorts of threats, as the warning itself proved.
QUESTION: Well, does it? Does it? We’ve talked about – you’ve talked about in here the harsh criticism of Ambassador Bass.
MR KIRBY: Yeah. Yeah.
QUESTION: And now this kind of thing.
KIRBY: I’m not saying it’s not a – I’m not saying it isn’t an uncomplicated or that it isn’t --
QUESTION: Well, is it a relationship in trouble?
KIRBY: No, it’s not a relationship in trouble.
KIRBY: No. Look, they’re a close --
QUESTION: The Turkish Government is closing down newspapers, seizing newspapers that appear to be fomenting rumors that the United States is in cahoots with PKK and conducting terrorist attacks in the capital --KIRBY: Well --
QUESTION: -- based on the fact that you put out a warning. And they’re going after your ambassador. How is it not a relationship in trouble?
KIRBY: I’m trying to – as you run through that, I’m trying to figure out how you’re coming to the conclusion that it is. I mean, we are NATO allies.
KIRBY: We are friends and partners. We are not going to agree on everything, Matt. And when we don’t, we’re open and honest about it. And as I said, the criticism of Ambassador Bass was unwarranted and undeserved. Turkey has no better friend than Ambassador Bass. We’re not going to see eye-to-eye with them on everything, but it doesn’t mean that the relationship is invalid or deteriorating or diminishing. It means that we’ve got some friction points. And what’s healthy about the relationship is that we’re able to share our concerns about that. We may never come to agreement on some of these issues. We recognize that. But it doesn’t mean that we’re not going to – that we’re going to stop raising them. And that we can do that, that we can have those tough discussions and dialogue is the sign of a relationship that is, at its core, healthy.
QUESTION: Can I have some clarification on this issue, on Turkey and NATO? Because I believe I heard last week in this room that membership in NATO is conditioned on democracy. Is it? Is it conditioned on a country being democratic?
- KIRBY: It’s – yeah, it’s a democratically based alliance.
QUESTION: Wasn’t Turkey a member of NATO when it was actually governed by a military junta?
- KIRBY: I don't know the history, Said.
QUESTION: Well --
- KIRBY: I don’t. I don’t.
QUESTION: Turkey --
- KIRBY: You’re missing the larger point here.
- KIRBY: Okay. You’re missing the larger point.
KIRBY: Turkey is an important ally and a friend. And as I said before, when we were talking about press freedom, their democracy matters to us. The health of their democracy matters to us. Their constitution enshrines certain democratic principles, to include free speech and freedom of the press and free and peaceful protest. And we want to see Turkey succeed. We want to see the Turkish people enjoy all those basic freedoms enshrined in their constitution. And when we see indications that that’s not happening or that those principles are at risk, we raise it. We raise it privately; Ambassador Bass does. And we raise it publicly here from this podium. And we’re going to continue to do that.
US: not seen the reports that this individual crossed the border into Syria and got training
QUESTION: Also the Turkish minister of internal affairs today identified that this – the suicide attacker was a woman who has joined the PKK in 2013. So according to ministry’s new statement – official statement, she crossed into the Syria and got some training from the PYD. I know your explanation many times from this podium towards the PYD, but after this – the official statements by Turks, is it going to change your view or still you’re going to consider PYD as a helpful organization, helping the fighting with Daesh?
KIRBY: I have not seen the reports that this individual crossed the border into Syria and got training. I haven’t seen the ministry of interior’s comments, so I can’t verify the veracity of them. The PKK is a Foreign Terrorist Organization. We regard it as a terrorist group. We’ve continually called on the PKK to cease attacks against Turkish citizens, to cease terrorism period, but in this case particularly against Turkish citizens. And they continue to do that. And we’ve also said that the Turkish Government, like any sovereign government, has a right to defend its citizens against terrorist attacks. In so doing, we’ve also called on Turkey to do so observing their international obligations, international law, and to do it with a sense of precision so that further civilian causalities are not suffered as a result. But we recognize the threat that the PKK continues to pose to the people of Turkey.
Now there are many groups in Syria that are effective at fighting Daesh. And some of these groups are Kurdish – not all of them, but some of them are. And the support that they get as they prosecute the fight against Daesh continues largely on a military front from the use – the support of air power, coalition air power. That’s really the gist of it. We’ve – we have been clear and consistent that the fighting inside Syria, the military line of effort, is to be used against Daesh. That was – that’s the focus of coalition air power. When the Pentagon had a train and equip program in place, it was to train and equip opposition groups to fight Daesh. That’s – that has been the effort inside Syria and it will continue to be.