U.S. Ambassador John Bass
Comments to the Press During an Independence Day Celebration
U.S. Ambassador’s Residence
Ankara, Turkey – July 7, 2017
Ambassador Bass: Arkadaşlar – iyi akşamlar, hoş geldiniz. Very good to have all you here again tonight. So, I just – I know you’re all working, so I wanted to take a couple of minutes and see if you have any questions. I’ve got a few minutes, but then I have to run back out.
Question: Sure, we have. Mr. Ambassador – there is an increasing military movement on the Syrian border area and speculation of a possible operation by Turkey against Afrin, against YPG forces. Could you please share us what does Washington think about such a possible operation and do you have any concerns? Brett McGurk was here – have you shared your concerns with Turkish side? And YPG is saying that they may move their forces from Raqqa if there is such an operation. Do you think this operation might affect Raqqa and have you shared these concerns with the Turkish side? Thank you.
Ambassador Bass: So, a couple of points on that. First off, I’d refer you back to Secretary Tillerson’s statement, I believe yesterday, or Wednesday, when he talked about Syria, and our current priorities for Syria, and reminded audiences that, first and foremost, our big focus in Syria continues to be defeating Daesh, and ensuring that it does not pose a threat any longer to the United States, to Turkey, to Europe, or to other parts of the world. And we think it continues to be very important for that to be the main focus and priority for the Coalition, and others who say they want to fight Daesh in Syria. Now, obviously, as the campaign continues, and the territory that Daesh holds gets smaller, there is greater opportunity for miscalculation by the many different military forces that are operating there – which is why we believe it is even more important now for all militaries to be cooperating, and sharing information, and using the existing mechanisms to deconflict their operations. So, we remain in close touch with the Turkish military about its intentions. We continue to believe strongly that Turkey has a right to defend itself and we do not support the use, by any organization, of Syrian territory to launch or plan attacks against Turkey. By the same token, we think that it’s really important for all of the members of the Coalition to continue to put the focus on eliminating Daesh’s last strongholds – first and foremost the one in Raqqa, from which so many attacks outside of the territory that Daesh controls have been planned and conducted, including attacks here in Turkey.
Question: Ambassador – first, I wonder – I want to make a follow up. Are you satisfied with the cooperation with the Turkish military in that respect, after your consultations? And secondly, during your speech you were so much mentioning about the justice and the Turkish republic is nowadays busy with the agenda of the justice march. On the other hand, there’s discussions between Turkey and the U.S. again on justice with respect to the MIT trucks and the prosecutor’s claims. Today the justice minister was critical once more. Would you comment on that? What was your reason [for] your speech [to] so much mention both justice [and] the rule of law – the importance for the society?
Ambassador Bass: Well, I think – first off, to your first question – we continue to have really strong daily contact, communication, cooperation between our militaries and with other militaries in the Coalition. And that remains an essential element for our collective success in those efforts. And I’m sure we will continue to enjoy really strong close cooperation between the militaries in the coming days.
Question: So, satisfied?
Ambassador Bass: Yeah, as I said, we continue to have really good, strong cooperation between the two militaries. With respect to the ongoing efforts to bring those responsible for the coup attempt last year to justice – you know, as you heard me say, we strongly support the Turkish government’s efforts to do that, and its right to do that. And that is clearly a desire of everyone in this society to see those who committed these crimes to suffer the consequences and to face the appropriate penalties from the judiciary. At the same time, I think it’s clear that there are – there’s a tendency among some in this society to use the term terrorism quite broadly, to encompass political opponents, to encompass people who have different perspectives, and often as a way to, I think, stifle debate and reduce the number of opinions about subjects or perspectives about subjects that are being discussed. And I think our experience, when we encountered a similar phenomenon after the terrible attacks of September 11, our experiences taught us that that aftermath of horrendous terrorist attacks is exactly when you need to have a robust debate in society about how best to deal with those challenges we face. In our experience, that made for a stronger democracy and a better result for our society. And it’s certainly our hope that, as everyone in this society works through this challenging period, that the mistakes that we made over the last fifteen years at different points can be avoided here. But that is a matter for everyone in this society to determine yourselves.
Question: Could you also give us the point about the Istanbul prosecutor office claim about the U.S. Embassy, because of some of members – of the Fethullah Gulen organization’s members calling the United States Consulate and Embassy? Would you like to make a comment about that?
Ambassador Bass: Well, our statement I think is very clear in terms of establishing the facts of the matter at that point in time. We continue to work very closely with the Justice Ministry, with other parts of the Turkish government, on the government’s efforts to bring those responsible to justice.
Question: [inaudible] a quick follow up. Speaking of Fethullah Gulen, there is an extradition request by Turkey, but that process – that legal process in the United States is not moving fast. So, what is the recent situation with the State Department, during completing the legal procedures with the Department of Justice?
Ambassador Bass: Well, our Justice Department is working closely with the Ministry of Justice to evaluate the evidence and the materials provided by the Ministry of Justice. There’s a range of submissions that we’ve received. And it’s not really appropriate for me to comment on that ongoing legal conversation between the two justice ministries, because the last thing I would want to do would be to complicate the efforts to achieve the outcome we’d all like to see, which is those responsible for the coup attempt facing justice. So, thank you. Çok teşekkürler.