Roundtable Meeting with Diplomatic Correspondents – May 4, 2015

Ambassador Bass - Roundtable Meeting with Diplomatic Correspondents
May 4, 2015 – Swissotel, Ankara

Moderator: Good morning friends. Today, we are hosting the U.S. Ambassador to Turkey, who is a very important character in last few months in Turkey. We just made our elections as an association. This is the first meeting of our body. By the way, I hope that will be a success meeting for both you and us. Thank you very much.

Ambassador Bass: Cok tesekkurler, hosgeldiniz, gunaydin (in Turkish). Thank you all very much for making time to see me this morning. I’ve got a couple of things I would like to say before we go to your questions but I do want try to preserve most of the time for your questions. First off, all of you probably know better than most people in the world, and in Turkey, yesterday was World Press Freedom Day. And for me, I had hoped to talk with all of you on one side or the other of that date I think we all deserve a day of rest for time to time so we didn’t do this exactly on World Press Freedom Day. But the timing of our discussion today is not coincidental. You may have seen over the last week that the U.S. government and the State Department have been focused very much on this day this year because of our ongoing concerns that too many journalists, in too many countries are unable to practice their craft and contribute to strengthening and sustaining democratic societies in the way that they should be able to do. And as President Obama said in his statement, “Journalists give all of us the chance to know the truth about our countries, ourselves, and our governments. That makes us better; it makes us stronger; it gives voice to the voiceless, exposes injustice and holds leaders like me, accountable.” And I think that’s a really important way to summarize the vital work that all of you do every day in supporting democratic societies, in providing the people of this country with your perspective and with information about what is happening in their society, in the wider region, and around the world. And we believe it is very important to continue to support journalists wherever they are working to be able to practice their profession.

The second thing I want to talk about briefly, I am sure you may have some questions is the ongoing electoral campaign here in Turkey and the upcoming elections. We are watching this campaign with interest as we do watch electoral campaigns and elections in all of our NATO-allied member states and those of our other partners and allies around the world with interest. And as my colleague Victoria Nuland said a couple of weeks ago when she was in Istanbul, we do that in part because the quality of Turkish democracy matters very much to us and to our allies because in our alliance and in the Euro-Atlantic community, we are all countries and societies where government serves the people, not the other way around. And we believe that dialogue between governments and their citizens needs to be strong, vibrant and free. And from our perspective that dialogue also includes the dialogue that takes place during campaigns and elections. Many people, including I am sure some of you, when we get to questions like to ask me who are we for? Who are we supporting in this election? And my answer to that question is that we are supporting the Turkish people. We are supporting everyone in this society who wants to ensure that this election is free and fair and competitive, and that all of the voters in this election have the opportunity to go to the polls and make an informed choice based on their ability to have access to information about candidates, parties and issues that are of concern to them. And so that’s the lens through which we are watching this election.

The third thing I would like to just address real quickly, since all of you are in the Diplomatic Correspondents Association, is that even while we continue to be focused as an embassy and the U.S. government on what’s happening inside of Turkey, of course we are spending much more of our time and energy and attention on working with the Turkish government and many other people in the society to address the wide-range threats and challenges that surround Turkey. And with- on which we work with Turkey in other parts of the world. I don’t have to tell any of you what perilous times we live in. It is a very challenging security landscape and we need only look to any of the refugee communities which Turkey is generously supporting peopled by Syrians, Iraqis, and some of the other refugees that are present in Turkey to know how much conflict and instability this region has experienced in recent years. So we have a very full security agenda which we are working closely with the Turkish government and with our other friends and partners and allies to try to address the terrible scourge of DAESH; to try to promote the peaceful settlement of this conflict in Syria anyway that results in the departure of Bashar al Asad; to promote a degree of reconciliation in Libya that enables the citizens of that country to build a common basis to start building a future together. I could go on with a very long list of issues where the United States and Turkey are working very closely and intently together. But rather than have me list all of this for you, I think I am sure many of them will come up in the course of our conversation. So, again thank you all for coming this morning and I am pleased to be here with you.

Ambassador Bass - Roundtable Meeting with Diplomatic Correspondents
Ambassador Bass – Roundtable Meeting with Diplomatic Correspondents

Moderator: Okay. Thank you very much Mr. Ambassador. As usual, we are going to have only two questions with the cameras and then the cameras will leave the hall. Please identify yourselves and your institutions before raising your questions to the Ambassador. And let’s start, who is number one?

Question: Mr. Ambassador, I want to ask about the allegations about espionage in U.S. Consulate General Adana. There is some news about it in today’s newspaper. I want to ask if these espionage allegations are true. The man, who is the target, a Turkish man, who works in the Consulate General, is he still working?

Ambassador Bass: Thanks for that question and the opportunity to clarify that story since the embassy and the consulate did not unfortunately have an opportunity to provide our perspective when the story was being developed; we were not asked for comment. So I am pleased to have that chance right now. As a matter of course, the embassy and our consulates engage with many different people in this society to understand what is happening in this society. And we do that from a variety of perspectives. One of the most important from our perspective is from the security perspective. So that we can understand what is happening around us, so that we can talk with Turkish government officials if there are specific threats that we face; if there are changes in the overall security environment and the political environment where we need to make sure that our employees, our families understand what is happening in society. That’s the normal business of any U.S. embassy. It is the normal business of I would posit virtually every embassy that’s working in Turkey or in any country around the world. And the description of the interactions in this story fit very much in that content; we talked a lot of different people. The specific allegations of espionage are unfounded.

Question: Mr. Ambassador, I would like to start with the hot topic of last week about you. From time to time, U.S. politicians or diplomats become targets of Turkish politicians. The last example was the mayor of Ankara targeting the Secretary of State spokesperson and they have seen your reaction through a photograph on Instagram. Would you like to express also in words? And I would like to ask a second question about the struggle against ISIL, particularly in Syria. We know that Turkey urged the U.S. to declare a safe haven and no-fly zone for a couple of years. Are those still on the agenda, a subject of the talks? And also, there were some news reports regarding the cooperation between Turkey and Saudi Arabia for further action in Syria. Would you please elaborate on that as well? Thank you.

Ambassador Bass: Sure. Well, with respect to your first question, I’m going to let my photo stand for itself, speak for itself. The mayor made his point, I made mine. I think frankly there are a lot of other subjects today that probably more interesting and useful to all of you to talk about. And you’ve asked about two of them.

With respect to cooperation between the U.S. and Turkey to address the interlocking challenge posed by DAESH in Iraq and Syria on the one hand, and the ongoing conflict in Syria created by the Asad regime. We are continuing to work very closely together to identify the best steps to take together and with many of our other partners and allies to try to address these two problems. An important piece of that work together is our agreement to train and equip and support members of the moderate Syrian opposition. To enable them to first of all better protect the Syrian people from the threats and violence that the Syrian people face both from DAESH but also from the regime. Secondly, to help them develop better capabilities to stabilize the areas, the geography, that’s under their control. Thirdly, to improve their ability to take action on the battlefield which we hope over time will help reinforce with President Asad that there is no military solution to this conflict, that there needs to be a negotiated settlement to this conflict, And that part of that negotiation- indeed the central piece of that negotiation- is how President Asad leaves office. And we are also working and training these elements to combat DAESH.  All of that work is under way. We’re making some important progress and we look forward to continuing to work hard to improve the capabilities of the moderate Syrian opposition this year.

I don’t have anything specific for you on cooperation between Turkey and Saudi Arabia in Syria.

Question: Ambassador, I have two questions. First is about Turkey’s domestic politics. Actually, you started your speech by addressing one of the many concerns in Turkey, the freedom of journalists. The state of freedoms is very concerning right now; there are many laws which are causing some worries both abroad and both at home. For example, there are laws which were used rarely before are now being prioritized by the President for example the law that criminalizes insulting the President and there are many cases About it  and you know the Parliament passed a controversial bill that broadens police powers and which was applied on May Day celebrations in Istanbul and around the country. And now also another dimension is that Turkey is speaking about actually the President wants to switch into presidential system; do you have any concerns that if Turkey switch to this system, there will not be a set of rights and freedoms in Turkey? And secondly, I would like to ask about Turkey’s foreign policy. We know that both from the statements and what we see in practice, there are some discrepancies in the views of United States and Turkey when it comes to Syria in fight with DAESH, as well as you know, Turkey’s position in Egypt, in Libya. When you look at this, when you look at Turkey from outside, of course you are here but do you still see Turkey as a reliable NATO ally? Thank you.

Ambassador Bass: On your first question. When we first say the nature of Turkey’s democracy is a matter for Turkish citizens to decide, whether it’s presidential system whether it’s a strong parliamentary system. That is not for the United States to decide and we respect the right and the ability of Turkish citizens to make informed choices. I think as this discussion and debate in society goes on, it’s important that everyone in the society have an opportunity to make an informed decision to be part of an informed conversation about this really important issue. And so I think the quality of the conversation, the information that’s available to wider citizens whether that decision is taken in the context of a constitution that is passed by new Parliament or referendum, irrespective of which way that might happen, I think it’s important that citizens in Turkey feel that this is change -if it happens- That’s been done with them. As opposed to change that’s been done to them. I think, you know the U.S. has partners and friends with many different democracies that have many different qualities and characters and systems. We partner with some strong presidential democracies, we partner with some strong parliamentary democracies. From our perspective, the system is not the essential piece, the underlying protection of fundamental freedoms. The extent to which that system provides checks and balances that prevent any single individual or any single branch of government from exercising disproportionate influence and ability to rule without consent. Those are the kind of things we look at closely. And those are the kinds of things that I would hope Turkish citizens would be looking at as this debate continues to unfold here.

With respect to foreign policy, there is a great deal of commonality in the way Turkey and the U.S. view the principal threats and challenges to our common interests in the world. We are working closely together for example to reassure our eastern allies in the NATO alliance in the wake of the Russian government’s steady consistent efforts over the last year to change borders in the Euro-Atlantic area by force.  That is something that we thought and hoped was a product of the past and would not be an enduring feature of the post-Cold War world. But that’s something that matters deeply to us, it matters deeply to Turkey and it’s an area where we’re working closely together. We have a very strong set of shared assessments about the challenges we face in Syria, in Iraq. We agree for example that President Asad has lost all legitimacy and that he cannot be part of a future Syria and we are determined to find a way with many of our other friends and partners to promoting a political settlement in Syria that leads to his departure.

We’re both very concerned about the extent to which DAESH has been destabilizing the government and the country of Iraq. And we’re, along with many other members of the coalition, working closely together to support the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people in combatting that particular problem. We’re both very concerned by the increased radicalization of youths, many different people from many different countries that who are attracted to this terrible millenarian view of how societies should be structured and governed and I’m speaking of DAESH. And it’s extremist terrorist ideology to the extent that it has an ideology other than imparting suffering other people. And we’re very concerned about the flow of foreign terrorist fighters or would-be terrorist fighters from other parts of the world into Syria and Iraq. And we’re working very closely to address those flows so that overtime, DAESH is not able to continue to attract additional people to replenish the many people who were being killed on the battlefield in our efforts to combat the organization.

Question: Well, if you allow me, I would like to go with a follow-up. There are claims that Turkey and DAESH are in sort of a non-aggression pact and they’re not trying to hurt each other. And from this perspective, do you think Turkey is efficiently addressing the threat posed by DAESH in the region?

Ambassador Bass: As I was just describing woven into my first couple of answers. This is a really complicated, challenging problem. It’s manifesting itself in the geography of Iraq and Syria but the underlying ideology is appealing to individuals, alienated individuals in many parts of the world who are for whatever reason attracted via social media, via press coverage, via other means to travel to Syria and Iraq and join the battle as they imagine it. So it’s not simply a function of addressing one piece of it. We have to work together as a strong coalition of nations to address this problem in many different facets. And Turkey is important part of those efforts. And I would say a vigorous partner in those efforts. One piece of that is continuing to improve and strengthen border controls so that fewer and eventually zero foreign terrorist fighters are able to cross into Iraq and Syria. But that isn’t simply a function of Turkey’s control of its southern border. It’s also a function and a responsibility of all of the nations from where these extremists are starting out to try to be doing as good a job as they can do to provide Turkey with information about these would-be extremists through actual extremists as they start their journey through that.

Question: As far as we know, the U.S. had been asking since 2014 for the use of Incirlik, but we don’t know the details. Is it true that no-fly zone or buffer zone proposal of the Turkish government was a pre-request for the use of Incirlik? And there were also arguments that armed predators will be settled in Incirlik, but then on the story is lost from even including CentCom, would you clarify? And I would like to learn your views or contributions on, is still U.S. still active on Turkish-Armenian, Israel or on the Cyprus rapprochement or the solution, is there any specific efforts that you are taking?

Ambassador Bass: OK, so that’s about 5 questions, very well done. With respect to your questions about specific military operations, that is a matter for the Pentagon to address directly, they speak for the U.S. government on actual military operations. I can tell you that we continue as part of our effort as this conflict evolves and the conditions of the ground change, we continue to talk regularly at very senior levels with the government of Turkey, and with other governments in the region and as part of the coalition, about how we need to be adjusting our approach to best address it. I was just describing one facet of that, which is trying to control the flow of terrorists fighters into Iraq and Syria another aspect is the Train and Equip effort. There are other dimensions and you know there all part of an ongoing conversation. So, I don’t think it is constructive today to try to pick one element out of it and give it particular weight. I would just say as this conflict continues, we are going to continue to work closely with all of our friends and partners in the coalition, including Turkey to see how we need to adjust our tactics and our strategy to ensure that over time we continue to reduce the amount of territory that DAESH controls, the number of people that are subject to its brutal oppression and to continue to support the moderate Syrian opposition, on the one hand the government of Iraq, and the authorities in the Kurdistan regional government to improve their capabilities to reassert control in governance and provision of services to all of the citizens of Iraq in the territories that DAESH currently controls.

Question: Can we understand that Incirlik is now under usage against IS?

Ambassador Bass: As I said, I am not going to comment on specific military operations. But, you know, Incirlik has been an important facility within our bilateral relationship, but I think most importantly, within our NATO alliance for many years. It’s been an important part of our logistical support network to support operations in Afghanistan for example. And so for many different reasons, Incirlik is central to all of our efforts in three regions in some respects, on shared security challenges that we have with the government of Turkey.

With respect to your 3-4 part question on other areas, I can tell you that all of those remain priorities for the U.S. government in terms of working with Turkey to address those specific foreign policy challenges. We continue to work with many different parties to promote a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That is I think most importantly a durable settlement, a durable solution meaning it endures over time.  And we are waiting for the formal creation of a new Israeli government and I think on the other side of that, knowing my current boss with whom I worked closely on this set of issues two years ago, he will be bringing some renewed focus and attention to this issue in the coming months.

Question: I have two irrelevant questions. One is a question regarding growing authoritarianism in Turkey and as a key ally how the American government approaching to it? And the case of press, the media, accreditation, censorship, auto-censorship.. It is difficult to answer these directly in the public but did you raise these state-to-state relations, in talks with the Turkish government?

Secondly, as a Cypriot of course I will continue with the Cyprus issue. We have a new president coming to Ankara tomorrow, hopes are high, and the new negotiator said a settlement is possible in 2015. Do you share this optimism? Do you really see there are reasons to believe that settlement is really possible?

Ambassador Bass: Let me take those in reverse order.  I’d say, with respect to Cyprus, we strongly support the efforts of UN Special Envoy Eide to re-stimulate negotiations between both sides on the island with the objective of creating a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation. And we are currently talking to the government of Turkey and other parties and interested parties to the negotiation to see how we can all best support his efforts to realize that objective. I think you will be seeing additional energy and commitment from the United States, as you have seen in past cycles of intensive negotiations, to support that effort. Secretary Kerry’s call to then president-elect Akinci was part of that process.

On your first question, you will see in the very near future when the annual report on human rights practices for Turkey is issued as part of our omnibus Human Rights Report for the world. When it is released you will see I think that we speak quite a bit to the topics that you raised in your question. And they are ongoing matters of discussion between the United States and the Turkish government. There are also topics of conversation that we have with many different people in this society to understand their perspective on the evolution in the law, to understand the evolution of the impact of those legal changes on conditions and perceptions of conditions that impact fundamental democratic freedoms.

I think with respect to the element of your question focused on media access to information, to me that’s a really important principle. It concerns us when governments anywhere are selective in terms of which publications, which points of view have access to official government events, to government spokespeople, to the perspective of government. I don’t think it’s realistic to expect that every publication is going to provide every view point. That’s why they are called editorial pages and why papers have points of view to attract readers. But I do think there is a challenge in any number of societies and democracies pointing back to where I started in terms of enabling citizens to make informed decisions about candidates and parties that are in an electoral environment. An informed decision requires people to have access to a range of viewpoints and perspectives. If voters have to work very hard to get more than one viewpoint, I think we find that problematic. And to the extent that certain viewpoints in journalism or politics are excluded from the legitimate debates and discussions about key issues in society, that’s a matter of some concern.

Question: Ambassador, actually you have made your point but I want to ask your personal observations. Before you began your mission in Turkey, upon the question of Senator McCain, you admitted that there was authoritarian tendencies in Turkey. Do you still keep your position and could you compare the situation in Turkey last year and today?

Ambassador Bass: Well first off, ambassadors have no personal views as personal representatives of the President and spokespersons for the United States government. I would say, within the context of several of the answers I’ve provided, you’ve heard my views on the importance in democratic societies, including Turkey’s, of ensuring that the nature of the political system, the practice of democratic politics, the business  of government, the administration of justice, the provision fo public services, all of those things are conducted in a way that increases public confidence in the institutions of government and in the individuals occupying positions of executive authority. The last piece- if voters don’t have confidence in individiuals in those positions, they vote them out in elections.

The former piece, confidence in institutions, I think is for all of our societies a more challenging one to address, because it is a function both of actual events and also perceptions. And both of those matter to citizens. And so, from our perspective, that’s why we believe that a system of checks and balances are so important in reinforcing public confidence in democratic institutions and a democratic system of governance, because it reinforces with citizens the perception and the belief that they have recourse if there are decisions taken by government with which they don’t agree or they believe are outside the bounds of the law, and that there are institutional checks on any individual’s ability to pursue policies based on an individual desire, rather than a legal responsibility.

Question: Mr. Ambassador, a few days ago Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu announced in an interview an upcoming agreement to be signed between the U.S. and Turkey regarding the fight, struggle against foreign fighters flowing into Iraq and Syria. Would you please go into specifics of that agreement and about the possible mechanism that will be established to stem the flow of foreign fighters in these countries?

Ambassador Bass: This is part of what I was referring to in an earlier answer in terms of all of us recognizing the challenge we face and reducing the numbers of foreign terrorist fighters who are moving from other countries to the conflict zones in Iraq and Syria. And we are working now with the government of Turkey on the specific details of how we can better share information about people we know to be extremists, people we suspect of being extremists who bear a degree of additional attention and scrunity from governments because of the nature of some of their activities in the past. And given how quickly information but also people are able to move in the modern era, in contemporary life, it’s important for governments to be able to respond to those movements quickly. It’s not helpful to anyone if an extremist from country X moves from that country to Iraq and Syria, and we only discover that fact three days after they have already arrived in Iraq and Syria. So what we are really focused on is how can we improve the coordination between our two governments and other members of the coalition to erduce those time lags in understanding when actual or potential foreign terrorist fighters are moving, travelling.

Question: Does it also include building a sort of database, the countries will share about possible extremists, would-be terrorists, etc.?

Ambassador Bass: I do not want to get into the details about what we are discussing before we have an actual agreement.  But as a practical matter, different countries have different information about actual or suspected extremists.  There needs to be a systematic way to share that information among them.

Question: As for the solution process on Kurdish issue, according to the roadmap PKK was supposed to announce that it will lay the arms but it is not happening; this congress is not happening.  And HDP and the government, including the president, are blaming each other.  So how do you see the pace of the solution process?

Ambassador Bass:  Well, first let me say that we strongly support the process.  The last thing that the citizens of Turkey need, the last thing that anyone in the region needs, is a resumption of conflict inside Turkey, and another conflict in this region.  We already have too many conflicts in this region.  We already have too much violence in this region.  And so for that reason, among many others, we continue to strongly support the process of discussing a peaceful outcome and the ongoing discussions about what that requires.  It has been my experience in, now 20… I have to count, 27 years of diplomacy, that every negotiation has periods where the parties to that negotiation express their frustration, where progress is not moving rapidly and where there is potentially a loss of confidence in the process itself.  And I think when that happens in the context of an electoral campaign, it is even more challenging.  So part of what we are about is making sure that everyone involved in the process understands that we continue to strongly support it; we do not want to see a return to violence, and we believe that it is important for the parties to remain committed to the process.

Question: Mr. Ambassador, there is a judicial process ongoing in Turkey about Fethullah Gulen, as you know.  Fethullah Gulen is now in the United States, in Pennsylvania.  I think in short term Turkish Ministry of Justice asked United States to deport Fethullah Gulen.  The first question is, is there any recent development about this issue between Turkey and the United States?  The second question is, we are always reading United States Congress reports, they always have whole page for Fethullah Gulen movement.  And what does United States government think about Fetullah Gulen movement’s role in Turkey?

Ambassador Bass: With respect to your first question, as a matter long-standing policy, the United States government does not comment on actual or hypothetical individual extradition or deportation cases.  What I can tell you is that we have a very rigorous legal process that involves two of our three branches of government.  Under treaty commitments or other legal obligation to many countries including Turkey, when it comes to legal matters involving foreign citizens who are resident in the United States, we apply that process rigorously, fairly and impartially based on the evidence that is presented to us when we receive a request.  On your second question, I think the challenge for outside observers is to understand within the voluminous commentary about Mr. Gulen and his movement, the nature of the specific activities of the movement which are violations of the law; and given that so much of the movement’s actual or alleged activities are wrapped up in legal proceedings here, it is inappropriate for me to offer comments about those specific activities.  But I believe it is important for everyone in Turkey, given the nature of the allegations and the breadth of the allegations, to have confidence that the judicial proceedings will occur in a transparent and impartial manner, so that everyone has confidence in the result.

Question: I want to ask about bilateral relations between Turkey and Russia.  Following the crisis, over the Ukrainian crisis, there was a camp – anti-Russian camp – and at the time, bilateral relations between Turkey and Russia was kept up new proposal by Moscow such as the Turkish stream still being discussed between officials.  I want to ask about your assessment regarding the stance of Turkey, on the issue of this conflict between Ukraine and Russia, and the anti-Russian camp reaction was obvious regarding the sanctions – Turkey was not a strong partner of that sanctions.  So what is your assessment about the stance of Turkey on those issues?

Ambassador Bass:  Well, let me first reiterate something I said earlier, which is both governments along with our allies in NATO and our friends in the European Union, believe strongly that borders in Europe and the Euro-Atlantic area should not be changed by force.  And unfortunately that is what we have seen happening over the last year, first in Crimea and now potentially in eastern Ukraine.  And that has been a matter of great concern to all of our NATO allies and Turkey has been an important part of the measures that NATO has taken to reassure our Eastern allies, to provide support across the alliance and to undertake a series of military measures to ensure that the Russian Federation understands the seriousness of our commitment to collective security.  We continue to believe that it is important for all of us to sustain pressure, economic pressure, on the Russian government as part of our effort to persuade the Russian government that it faces a very real choice in Ukraine.  It has an option through which, if it supports implementation of the details outlined in Minsk, if it withdraws its forces from eastern Ukraine, there is the prospect of relief from the sanctions in place and the potential for all of us to go back to working to create a more prosperous, peaceful European and Euro-Atlantic area.  But that is a choice that the Russian Federation faces and until it makes that choice, obviously all of the members of the alliance including Turkey will continue to face some economic sacrifices as a result of that.

With respect to energy, we believe strongly that the provision of energy supplies, the distribution of energy, particularly oil and gas should not be manipulated to increase political pressure on individual countries.  And our approach to South Stream and our approach to any possible successor pipelines that Gazprom seeks to negotiate will be viewed very much through that prism and from that fundamental principle.  And we do not want to see development of gas infrastructure in Europe that increases the dependence of individual countries on one sole supplier.  And that is why we are working very strongly and closely with the European Union to strengthen the interconnections within the European gas distribution network so that countries have choices, they have the opportunity to buy gas from a range of sources and so that the purchase and sale of natural gas or other energy resources are done on economic and commercial basis, as opposed to as an instrument of politics.

Question:  We have been talking about IS but there is a new development that Jabhat al-Nusra is growing in the region.  And there are also arguments that Turkey has been giving support to that front. Do you have such information and is it also, for U.S., I just want to understand, do you see a difference between IS and al Nusra?  Or do you still both organizations as terrorist, as harmful against humanity, Islam?  And also, that is it.

Ambassador Bass:  Thanks for raising Nusra.  It is a mark of the times we live in that DAESH has managed to be even more extreme than Jabhat al-Nusra which two years ago, I think, would have surprised many analysts.  But the fact that we are dealing with an even more extreme terrorist organization does not mean that we are not still opposed to the practice and behavior of Nusra, which is affiliated with al-Qaeda and which we still see very much as a foreign terrorist organization and which we believe does not, cannot have a future in Syrian politics in government.

If I may, just as a closing statement, a closing observation- I am little surprised that none of you asked about Armenia and April 24th.

Question: I asked…

Ambassador Bass: Well, yeah, to be fair you asked in terms of the bilateral piece.  But I think it is interesting the extent to which the nature of the Turkish – Armenian issue is so heavily focused on a single day, an anniversary day, and the politics around that.  It is a vitally important issue to resolve.  But I think it is equally important for all of us to be focused on doing what we can where can every other day of the year to both promote the reflection and discussion about 1915 that we believe is so important, that produces a full, frank and just acknowledgment of the facts.  And that also contributes to improved relations between Turkey and Armenia which we believe are very much in the interest of both countries of the wider region and of the United States.  So with that I want to thank you all for making time to talk with me today and I look forward to doing it again.

Question:  I guess we should also thank you for your messages about the press freedom that we hope that people will hear.

Ambassador Bass:  Well, I very much admire you for pursuing this profession.  It is not easy work in any society, and I just, as a career diplomat who has worked with journalists in many different countries and societies, what you do every day – as I said at the outset in quoting President Obama – is really important to the quality of democracy here in Turkey.  It matters every day.  So, I want to thank you for providing us with lots of information so that we can better understand what is happening in this society.  So, thanks very much.