Deputy Secretary Antony Blinken’s Interview with NTV’s Ahmet Yeşiltepe

Deputy Secretary Antony Blinken with NTV’s Ahmet Yeşiltepe

U.S. Ambassador’s Residence
September 27, 2016
Verbatim transcript

Yeşiltepe: İyi günler, Türkiye ile Amerika Birleşik Devletleri arasındaki ilişkiler son dönemde oldukça hareketli sıcak bir süreç geçiriyor, işte böyle bir dönemde özelikle 15 Temmuz darbe girişiminin ardından ve ağırlıklı olarak Suriye’nin ekseni oluşturduğu ilişkler sürecinde Ankara’nın çok önemli bir konuğu var, Amerika Birleşik Devletleri Dışişleri Bakan Yardımcısı Antony Blinken Ankara’da ve şu anda NTV’nin canlı yayın konuğu.

Question: Thank you very much for this opportunity – interview opportunity.

Deputy Secretary Blinken: Thank you for having me.

Question: The first question is about the relationship between two countries. Especially Turkey and [the] United States has been affected by topics related to Syria. Both countries are working together as allies against Daesh, but sometimes there are also disagreements about the – about how to approach the topic. What do you think should be done to overcome this, especially [these] disagreements and what are the duties of Ankara and Washington in this regard?

Deputy Secretary Blinken: Well first, we are working in extraordinarily close coordination in partnership with our NATO ally Turkey, and my visit here only confirms that – this is in my third visit in about six months. So many our senior officials have been back and forth in both directions, and all of this goes to the fact that we’re working very very closely together. We’ve made, together, dramatic progress against Daesh, and we’re now at a point where we have an opportunity in both Iraq and in Syria to take away the geographic caliphate. Mosul, Raqqa, Dabiq – that’s all that’s left for Daesh and it’s coming down to the very core of its so-called caliphate. And so, what we’re doing now is working on the plans to take back Mosul, take back Dabiq, take back Raqqa.

Question: Are you in agreement with Turkey regarding the military approach to Raqqa and Mosul? Is there a concrete plan about this?

Deputy Secretary Blinken: We had very good meetings during my visit, including going through the plan for Mosul, a plan that’s been developed over many months with the Iraqi government, as well as the leadership in the Kurdish region – very good coordination and cooperation between Prime Minister Abadi, President Barzani. We went through that plan in detail today with our Turkish allies, and my sense is that it was well received and we got a very positive – positive reaction. Critical to that is taking into account a number of Turkish concerns, particularly the role of the so called popular mobilization forces, as well as the PKK, and we’ve made very clear – and the Iraqis are in full agreement – that, in terms of the liberation of Mosul, they will not have a role. So I think we’re addressing some of the Turkish concerns and, as I said, we had a very good exchange on the Mosul plan.

Question: I see. Despite Ankara’s position, would you continue to request the support of Kurdish groups such as [the] YPG, PYD, in such an operation, especially about the Raqqa operation?

Deputy Secretary Blinken: So, with regard to Syria, we also talked together about our common effort there. First, thanks to extraordinary work by Turkey along the border, Daesh really no longer has access to that border and that’s a hugely important development as a result of Operation Euphrates Shield. We’ve supported that effort very strongly and there’s an opportunity now to consolidate the gains that Turkey and the moderate Syrian opposition have made, and we talked about that. And then we talked about the need to take on Raqqa – as I said that is the big remaining piece in Syria, along with Dabiq. And we’re in the process of talking through what the most effective plan would be, who would be involved, how we would do it.

Question: We know that Turkey views [the] PYD and YPG as terrorist organizations. How long, and in what framework, will your relationship with these organizations continue?

Deputy Secretary Blinken: We have looked to work with effective partners in Syria for dealing with Daesh, our common enemy – our common enemy of the United States, of Turkey. One of those partners has been the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces that include an Arab component, but also a Kurdish component.  And we have worked with them, along with other groups, to deal with Daesh. But, Turkey is our NATO ally, our partner of many many many years – in fact, the alliance goes back to 1952, in the case of Turkey. And we want to make sure that everything that we’re doing in Syria to deal with Daesh, again, is done in full consultation and full transparency with Turkey, and that nothing that we do will undermine Turkey’s security – to the contrary, we want to make sure that Turkey’s security is actually enhanced by these operations. Clearly, defeating Daesh will enhance Turkey’s security, just as it will enhance our security.

Question:  Yes. The United States government states that they support the unity of Syria.

Deputy Secretary Blinken:  Yes.

Question:  Yet, [the] YPG/PYD has announced autonomy in the areas they occupy in Northern Syria. Have you warned these organizations about the risk of the Syria’s fragmentation?

Deputy Secretary Blinken: Yes, we’ve been very clear with all groups and all parties, including with them, that we strongly support the territorial integrity of Syria, and we oppose the joining up of the so-called Kurdish cantons in Syria. So, we’ve been clear about that, and we’ll remain very clear about that.

Question:  Okay, Turkey has repeatedly complained about [the] United States’ support for the PYD/YPG, sending weapons especially.  What do you think about this?

Deputy Secretary Blinken: Let me be very clear. Any support that we provided has gone to the Syrian-Arab coalition – that is the Arab component of the Syrian Democratic Forces, not to the YPG. And we have provided, to those forces, ammunition and other equipment in the past. That is the extent of our support to date.

Question:  Do you think the geographical unity will be able to be protected? Could a federal set-up a possible – would you see this as a potential solution?

Deputy Secretary Blinken:  Look, ultimately this is up for Syrians to decide, not for anyone else. As I said, we strongly support the territorial integrity of Syria. How Syrians decide to organize themselves within a united Syria ultimately is up to them. I hope we get to the point where the civil war ends inside of Syria, and Syrians are in a position to discuss what their future governance looks like, but it needs to be within the territorial integrity of the country.

Question: Okay.  I have to go to the no-fly zone issue.  First, how do you evaluate Turkey’s efforts to form a safe zone in Northern Syria?  And, why does the United States government not accept Turkey’s recommendation for a no-fly zone in this region?

Deputy Secretary Blinken: Well there are two things.  One, with regard to a safe zone, first the actions that have been taken through Euphrates Shield I think have the potential to create de-facto safe area along the border between Turkey and Syria.  And, as that work continues and as it extends a little bit further south, that has real potential to be a safe area and certainly a buffer so that Turkey, which is already been so  extraordinarily generous in welcoming Syrian refugees, doesn’t have to worry about more of that following.  With regards to a no-fly zone, part of the reason we’ve been working so hard to get a cessation of hostilities working with the Russians is because part of that agreement would have created, in effect, a no-fly zone, in that the Syrian air force would be required to stop flying and stop bombing over large concentrations of civilians. So, that was the hope that we would get in effect and agree to, a permissive no-fly zone.  I think we will see if the cessation of hostilities is still possible. Tragically the actions that the regime and the Russians have taken recent days in Aleppo make it very hard for that succeed, and we will know I think in the coming hours whether it is still possible.

Question: How do you view Turkey’s policies regarding the Syrian refugees? What do you think about it?

Deputy Secretary Blinken: I think that the Turkish people, the Turkish government, have demonstrated extraordinary generosity to Syrian refugees and I think for any country they have to ask themselves were they in Turkey’s position would they have been open and generous? We admire what Turkey has done. Not just in welcoming people and having – allowing them to stay in Turkey, but also making increasing efforts to make sure that children can go to school and adults can work legally.  We are trying to help.  President Obama as you know convened a summit on margins of the United Nations General Assembly to get as many countries as possible into providing more humanitarian assistance because the budgets in humanitarian assistance are not nearly what they should be, to resettling themselves more refugees, including the U.S., and also to assisting countries like Turkey that are trying to help provide for the education and employment of refugees and we made dramatic progress in all three areas at the summit. I think the European Union is also now making good on its own commitments in terms of financial support. So, we hope that all of this helps Turkey bear the burden.

Question: Turkey has recently overcome an attempted coup, yet the United States media has focused on conspiracy theories, rather than the Turkish public’s struggle to protect democracy. What do you think are the reasons of this?

Deputy Secretary Blinken: You know, I started my day here today by visiting the parliament, because I wanted to see for myself the damage that had been done by the airstrikes that were conducted by the coup plotters. And I’ve got to tell you – it was a very moving experience. It was particularly moving for me because I worked in our own Congress for six years before going to the White House and the State Department.  And to see this direct attack on the heart of Turkish democracy really resonated. And I think it’s true – people around the world, including in the United States, don’t understand well enough exactly what this coup tried to do and the attack on Turkish democracy. But it was also very reaffirming, because you could feel the resilience of the Turkish people, and their elected representative, to stand up for democracy. All of that was visible in the parliament. So I am glad I had an opportunity to do that, just as Vice President Biden did when he was here some weeks ago. It’s important for people around the world to recognize that this was a dagger pointed at the heart of Turkish democracy. Thankfully the Turkish people and leaders were able to prevail, the coup did not succeed, and our partnership with Turkey needs to be even stronger than ever.

Question: We see that the U.S. government is taking Turkey’s request regarding the return of Fethullah Gulen seriously. Do you agree with Ankara that this topic may damage Turkish-American relations?

Deputy Secretary Blinken: We are determined to do everything we can to help Turkey as it pursues its investigations of those responsible for the attempted coup. And with regards specifically to the case of Mr. Gulen, we’ve had an exchange of experts visiting both Turkey and the U.S. – legal experts, so that Turkey fully understands the legal process that’s involved. I just want to be very clear, this is not a political question at all for the United States – it’s simply a legal question. We have laws and requirements when it comes to the extradition of any person from a country with whom we have an extradition treaty and we need to work through those legal requirements. But we’ve had very good exchanges with Turkey on this question and we’re working through the information that’s been provided.

Question: The last question is about the Moody’s, the rating company. We got a lot of different thoughts. Could you please tell us what do you think about the rating company Moody’s downgrading Turkey’s rating? What do you think?

Deputy Secretary Blinken: Look, I don’t have a particular view or judgement on that. It’s an independent organization. They make their judgements. Turkey’s had tremendous success with its economy and I think that it’s also of course been in the midst of a very difficult region and environment. But I think, as Turkey focuses on the fundamentals, it will remain a very attractive place for business and investment. I think businesses, foreign investors of course, are looking for transparency, rule of law – things that any business would look to. But, I am confident that the economic success that Turkey has should be able to continue.

Question: This will be the last question; what do you view as the most promising areas of the relationship between Turkey and United States, and what do you see [as] the most difficult problems between the two countries?

Deputy Secretary Blinken: That’s a question that could take a while to answer, because, in terms of the promise – look, it’s extraordinary, but we’re working off of a very very strong foundation. As I said, we’ve been formal allies now since 1952, and over so many years, dealing with so many challenges, Turkey and the United States have been side by side, and that is something that neither of us forgets, even when in the moment we may have particular challenge that we’re trying to overcome. Our leaders have worked closely together over these many years, our militaries have worked very closely together over these many years, but more important even than that, I think, is the connection between our peoples. And so, as more and more Turks and more and more Americans are working in our respective countries, as more and more students are studying, as more and more businesses are working together – that’s really the strength of the relationship, and already, as I said, the foundation is very very strong.

But we live in incredibly challenging times, and there is no more challenging part of the world than right here, and Turkey is in the middle of that. And we know the difficulties and challenges that Turkey is facing and dealing with – PKK terrorism and dealing with Daesh, and dealing with so much of the tension that exists in this region. And, sure, we have tactical differences sometimes about the best way to approach these problems. But, fundamentally, we share exactly the same goals, and that is to stand up for democracy, to stand up for security and against terrorism, wherever it’s coming from, and to work together in doing that. And especially, ultimately, giving our citizens more opportunity with jobs, with growth, and that comes from making sure the partnership stays strong and gets even stronger.

So, look, I’ve had an opportunity to work with Turkish friends and colleagues now for the better part of two decades, because I started in the Clinton administration in the 1990s –  in fact, one of our big objectives then was to strongly support Turkey’s efforts to be considered for accession to the European Union. And I know from that experience that even when we have momentary disagreements over the right tactics in a particular challenge, the fundamentals of the relationship are very strong, and I want to make sure we keep focused on that.

Question: Thank you very much for this interview opportunity, sir.

Deputy Secretary Blinken: Thank you. Good to be with you. Thank you.

Yeşiltepe: ABD Disisleri Bakan Yardimcisi Anthony Blinken konugumuzdu. Gercekten son derece hareketli ve sicak bir gundemin icerisinde iki ulke iliskilerini kendisiyle degerlendirdik.

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