Secretary Antony J. Blinken And Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu At a Joint Press Availability


February 20, 2023

FOREIGN MINISTER CAVUSOGLU: (Via interpreter) Distinguished members of the press, today (inaudible) together with my distinguished friend, the Secretary of State of the United States of America, Antony Blinken, in Ankara. Following the earthquake disaster, we received a lot of messages of condolence and support from the U.S.A. President Biden personally called our president and expressed his feelings of solidarity and indicated that they are ready to provide all kinds of support. My distinguished counterpart and my distinguished friend Tony called me twice before the visit and extended his feelings of solidarity. And in addition to the request that Türkiye made, he asked whether we needed anything additional. I would like to thank him.

Yesterday, we paid a visit to the earthquake disaster zone, and we conducted our visit in that area. Many U.S. institutions and enterprises are actually providing humanitarian assistance activities in this area, and many individuals and many institutions in the U.S.A. – some companies, and my distinguished friend met with some of them, as well as NGOs – are providing assistance and are organizing assistance campaigns. And we are grateful for this support, both to the U.S. administration as well as to the people of United States of America. We would like to thank them for the solidarity and support they have extended in these dire days.

Distinguished members of the press, we have an extensive agenda with U.S.A, and we met in Washington with my distinguished counterpart a month ago for the Strategic Mechanism meeting. And we agreed that we should have meetings twice on an annual basis, and we would like to conduct the second meeting in the second half of this year, but the – the preparations are ongoing. Our common aim is actually to increase the opportunities existing in our relations, as well as turning these into concrete gains, and also effectively manage the problems and the issues raising. And, of course, this is the main philosophy behind the Strategic Mechanism.

Economy and trade is actually one of the pioneering items of the positive agenda. Last year, the trade volume reached $32 billion, and we would like to continue working to reach the $100 billion target. The mutual investments are increasing.

Military relations are an important dimension of our strategic partnership, but of course, due to unilateral sanctions, the cooperation in the field of defense industry is facing difficulties. And we need to overcome these difficulties, and the sanctions, we expect them to be lifted in the earliest opportunity.

We also reviewed the (inaudible) status quo pertaining to our F-16 request and we discussed this with our colleagues. The U.S. administration strongly supports our request. We are thankful for this support, and the official notification, if it’s done to the Congress in the earliest opportunity and the ratification process is completed at the earliest opportunity possible, is going to be benefiting for both side. Of course, there could be difficulties arising in the U.S. Congress, but the delays or the obstruction by certain circles in this process should not be allowed, and the U.S. Congress should not be obstructing, rather undertaking a role of support.

Of course, meeting this request is important in terms of our bilateral relations, but it’s also important in terms of the NATO defense capabilities. And, of course, in the dialogue with the U.S. Congress, the U.S. administration have clearly underlined this fact.

Of course, fighting against terrorism – counterterrorism – is amongst the items of our joint agenda. We have certain expectations pertaining to the support rendered to PKK/YPG and the ending of the existence (inaudible), and we have once again underlined our expectations and the U.S. side is aware of this.

There are certain issues of consular matters which we undertook during the meeting today with our colleagues, especially the visa application processes. There are serious delays. There was some acceleration at one point, but there is now a waiting period up to six months, and we extended our request for the acceleration.

And, of course, in relation to security threats, we do believe that we should have a coordination and cooperation with respect to such declarations and warnings on security.

During our meetings we discussed also the international and regional issues. In addition to bilateral matters, we talked about the Southern Caucasus. In the recent periods, both me and my distinguished friend Tony have contacted both the Azerbaijan as well as the Armenian side. Our aim is to have a stable peace and stability in Southern Caucasus, and we will continue to strive to this end.

In relation to the expansion of NATO, which was another matter that we discussed, we underlined once again our expectations from the two candidate members to NATO. In the coming period, the permanent – the Standing Committee meeting is going to take place, which is going to take place in Brussels in NATO, and our colleagues will discuss which steps have been taken and which steps have not been taken. Together with our colleagues from NATO and also participating countries, this will give us an opportunity to transparently identify this issue.

We also discussed the Israel and Palestine issue. We’re worried about some of the steps that have been taken, especially the illegal settlements, and also the steps that have been taken needs to be finalized. The declarations of the United States sides we do believe are very positive.

We also discussed the issue of Syria, and we discussed the issue of assistance that is going to be provided to Syrian people following the earthquake. And we also had an opportunity to bilaterally discuss these issues.

I would like to thank for this very open, frank, and productive meeting to my distinguished counterpart, and I would also like to thank them for siding with us and supporting us during these difficult times. And thank you for your visit, my distinguished friend. The floor is yours.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Mevlut, my friend, thank you very, very much. This has been an important opportunity to visit our Turkish allies and friends in a moment of real need, and to bring a clear message from President Biden and from the American people: The United States is here to support you in your time of need, and we will be by your side for as long as it takes to recover and to rebuild.

Yesterday, as my first stop on this trip, I visited Incirlik Air Base, which, as you know, is the hub of the United States efforts to support the disaster response. With the foreign minister, with Mevlut, I had the opportunity to fly over Hatay Province to look at some of the devastation firsthand. And as I said yesterday, it’s hard to put into words: countless buildings, communities, streets, damaged or fully destroyed.

I met with a number of the responders: U.S. military officials; our team from the U.S. Agency for International Development; members of the incredible American Disaster Assistance Response Team; search and rescue teams from Los Angeles on one coast to Fairfax County, Virginia on the other, where I live; our White Helmet partners in Syria. All of them have seen the staggering toll of this catastrophe – all of them are committed to being there for our friends in this moment.

We began our own assistance to the rescue and relief efforts within hours of the first quake, when President Biden directed the heads of our federal agencies to rapidly mobilize to assist the Government of Türkiye and our humanitarian response partners in Syria.

We have sent hundreds of U.S. Government personnel to the region – including the disaster assistance response and search and rescue teams, and also emergency managers, paramedics, hazardous materials technicians, and engineers.

We’ve sent approximately 1.8 million pounds of relief supplies for survivors – shelter, kitchen sets, blankets, hygiene kits, and more – and more is on the way.

We’re continuing to announce additional assistance, new funding to support these efforts. Yesterday I announced an additional $100 million from the United States on top of the $85 million we’ve already provided. The American people – communities and businesses, as Mevlut said – have seen the heartbreaking images and they have been standing up, too. We have nearly $80 million in donations from the private sector in the United States, individuals. When I visited the Turkish embassy in Washington, I almost couldn’t get in the front door because boxes were piled high throughout the driveway to the embassy.

Now, Türkiye faces a long road ahead to support those rendered homeless, and to rebuild. The UN secretary-general has put out a very important, urgent appeal for $1 billion for long-term assistance, and we’re committed to providing support.

Just as allies and partners show up for each other in our darkest hours, we also stand side by side in confronting common security challenges. And that’s certainly been true in our response to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.

Türkiye’s clear voice in support of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity has been critical.

Its diplomatic leadership – the foreign minister’s personal role in brokering the UN Black Sea Grain Initiative – has been critical, and critical to making sure that food and food products could get to people in need around the world, including many people in low-income countries.

Its continued implementation of the Montreux Convention deterred naval escalation in the Black Sea and helped protect Ukraine’s coastline.

Türkiye’s humanitarian and economic support for Ukraine – providing initial safe haven for hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians fleeing the Russian onslaught, supplying hundreds of generators for cities amid blackouts as Russia continues to attack the electricity grid – that has saved lives in Ukraine.

And its position as a key energy transit hub has bolstered energy security, bringing alternative natural gas supplies – international LNG, as well as Caspian Sea gas – to Europe.

The United States greatly values Türkiye’s contributions as a longstanding and active member of the NATO Alliance, and we’ll keep working together to strengthen and grow our Alliance – including through the accession of Sweden and Finland, which will help deliver even stronger and more capable assets to the Alliance.

Türkiye and the United States are also partnering to fight global terrorism and to advance peace in the Balkans and the Caucasus and other global hotspots. We very much appreciate the positive steps that Türkiye is taking to improve relations with Greece, with Armenia, with Israel – whose citizens, by the way, have been working side by side with their colleagues from Türkiye in response to the earthquake. And we’re committed to maintaining our very close defense cooperation, including by ensuring that Türkiye remains a highly capable air power contributor within the NATO Alliance.

We’re focused on expanding the robust trade, investment, and economic cooperation between our countries. As Mevlut said, we had a very good year last year. Trade exceeded a record $30 billion. We’re eager to build on that foundation, to pursue new opportunities, particularly in the renewables sector. Türkiye has invested over $16 billion in renewables over the last five years, and is pursuing ambitious goals to increase capacity over the next five years. We look forward to setting up a Climate and Energy Dialogue to accelerate these efforts, while also creating jobs and inclusive economic growth for both of our countries.

Beyond these shared interests, United States and Türkiye have a relationship that is built on shared values – values of democracy, respect for basic universal freedoms, for human rights. And today, we had an opportunity to discuss those principles, as we always do in our conversations.

And like all good friends, the United States and Türkiye do not agree on every issue. But like good friends, ours is a partnership that has withstood extraordinary change and some significant challenges, and will continue to do so, particularly because we’re able to speak so directly and candidly to each other.

Later today, I’ll have the privilege of visiting the Anitkabir, the resting place of the founder of the Turkish Republic.

In the heart of our own capital stands a monument to one of our own great independence leaders and founders, George Washington. One hundred and seventy years ago, when the Washington Monument was being constructed, Sultan Abdul Mejid sent a marble plaque to be placed on the obelisk. And the words on that stone were inscribed by the same calligrapher whose work graces the Hagia Sophia. His message can still be made out, 170 years later: “In support of eternal friendship.”

Today, that commitment not only endures, but continues to grow and to flourish, as I’m convinced it will for generations.

MODERATOR: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Ecem Toplar from Bengu Turk TV. This is going to be question to both ministers. Minister Cavusoglu (inaudible) that the U.S. administration supports, but this process in the Congress is not clear. When do you expect the official notification to – done? And is there any expectation that there will be an obstruction? Because we know that certain senators have written to President Biden. And in addition to this, for Türkiye there is 1 billion payment that has been made for F-35. What is the last situation and the status quo on this payment?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you very much for the question. With regard to the F-16s, the Biden administration strongly supports the package to both upgrade the existing F-16s and to provide new ones to Türkiye, because as a NATO Ally and partner, it is in our national interest and the security interest of the Alliance that Türkiye continue to be able to operate at the higher standards of NATO to make sure that we have full interoperability.

On this particular matter, I can’t offer you an assessment or get into the process until after we formally notify our Congress, but it’s something that we’re working on and we’ve made very clear to Congress our strong support for the F-16 modernization. We have longstanding defense and security ties, and as the President has said – as President Biden has said – Turkish NATO interoperability remains a priority for us.

FOREIGN MINISTER CAVUSOGLU: (Via interpreter) Thank you very much. As I mentioned during my remarks, we clearly stated our expectations pertaining to the F-16. There is will on the U.S. administration side, and we are aware of certain letters that have been written by some circles and some senators. On one hand, we are working on this in terms of delegations, technical delegations, and if the U.S. administration has a firm stance and if we work together, we believe that we can overcome this resistance that might exist.

These two independent issues, especially pertaining to two states becoming full member to NATO to be the precondition of the purchase of F-16 – these are not related issues. They are different negotiations. For both sides there is an MOU that has been signed – a trilateral MOU – so it will not be correct to put this as a precondition, or, of course, it will not be possible for us to purchase F-16 with certain conditions. Our hands should not be tied, so we should have a common stance as the administration of Türkiye and the administration of U.S. This is critical.

On the issue of the F-35, we were a partner to the F-35, and because of the CAATSA sanctions, Türkiye was taken out of this partnership. This was a unilateral decision. It wasn’t our decision. There is a payment that we have made, $1.4 billion, and if Türkiye is not in the program, of course, expecting that this money is to be paid back to us is only natural. And negotiations are continuing on this. On 18th of January when we met with my counterpart in Washington, D.C., the experts also discussed the issue of F-35 on the same day. And, of course, it will be beneficial to reach a conclusion to this ASAP.

QUESTION: Thank you. Reuters, Humeyra Pamuk. (Via interpreter) Thank you. Reuters, Humeyra Pamuk. Minister, the relations between Türkiye and U.S. have been continuing in a negative way, and there are differences of opinions – the F-16s, Sweden and Finland. Also, on the issue of earthquake, you have indicated that there is strong solidarity. Do you believe that this tragedy that we experienced will be an occasion for a new page in the relations between the two countries?

And NATO countries and U.S. are expecting Türkiye to ratify the membership application of both Sweden and Finland before the Vilnius summit. Will Türkiye be able to meet this requirement?

(In English) Ties between your two countries have been in a bad place. You yourself described Türkiye in your confirmation hearing two years ago as a so-called ally. But I wonder if the experience of the earthquake has created an opportunity for a reset between the two countries.

And a follow-up to my colleague’s question on the F-16: You just said you can’t assess a timeline for the formal notification. What exactly is the United States waiting for? Are you waiting for Türkiye to approve the Nordic expansion? And what will you do to convince the U.S. Congress to be on board? Thank you.

FOREIGN MINISTER CAVUSOGLU: (Via interpreter) Thank you very much. Of course, the solidarity that has been extended during difficult times always have a positive effect on relations, and it contributes to those relations. We might have differences of opinions with the United States of America, and these issues are clear, but the positive agenda and focusing on the positive agenda – and there is also a will to develop our relations further.

Therefore, during the meeting in Rome, President Biden and President Erdogan discussed the establishment of the Strategic Mechanism. The aim behind this, as I have mentioned – the philosophy behind this – is to focus on the positive agenda and develop relations on a bilateral basis in different platforms and increase cooperation in regional and global issues.

The second aim is actually to discuss the existing problems and discuss how these problems could be resolved and take steps accordingly. In this direction, both at expert level and at the ministerial level, we met twice, and I do believe that such meetings have been very beneficial. When the foreign minister of Greece visited our country, as I said during the press meeting, for developing relations or for resolving existing problems, we should not wait for a disaster to take place and we should take sincere and concrete steps in this direction.

The membership of Sweden and Finland, if you follow the declarations on our side – and I do know that the U.S. is following this closely – we have a trilateral memorandum of understanding between these three countries, and it’s very clear as to what steps needed to be taken by which side. Relatively, our problems with Finland are less, so the calendar that you have shared with respect to the NATO Summit in Vilnius – these are tied in relation to the steps that are to be taken by Sweden.

There have been some positive messages, there have been legislative amendments and constitutional amendments undertaken by the Swedish side, but unfortunately, the PKK supporters and also in relation to financing of terrorism and (inaudible) for terrorism, as well as the terrorist propaganda – all activities are continuing. And these are taking place in the center of Stockholm in front of the city building, and they are trying to eliminate Sweden’s membership to NATO. But, of course, it’s up to Sweden to take relevant measures to eliminate such activities.

We saw the sincere efforts of the prime minister, and he also had an opportunity to see the stance of all political parties in our parliament. This is just – it isn’t just a matter of the government’s position. So the faster and the better the Swedish side takes steps, if they take steps that will convince our parliament and our people, then we will take the relevant steps as well.

Of course, on the issue of Finland, we have indicated that there could be a different methodology followed. This was a message that our president shared with the secretary general of NATO last week. Here we are especially waiting for the Swedish side to take concrete steps, and everybody should support Sweden to take these concrete steps. Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Humeyra, thank you. I don’t share the premise of the question about the nature of our or status of our relationship. As I laid out in my opening statement, Türkiye and the United States are working closely together across multiple fronts, whether it’s in our own bilateral relationship, whether it’s in the region, Europe more broadly, or for that matter around the world. And it’s a partnership that we greatly value.

With regard to the F-16s, I can’t give you a timeline on formal notification. What I can tell you is I have already been actively engaged in speaking to Congress about the administration’s strong support for the F-16 package, the upgrade, modernization package. And I have shared, again, our view that this is very important for ongoing NATO interoperability and in the national security interest of the United States.

The matter of Finland and Sweden’s accession to NATO is not a bilateral issue. Of course, as you know well, we strongly support their admission as quickly as possible. Both are members already of NATO’s Partnership for Peace, NATO’s Enhanced Opportunity Partnership. Their militaries work seamlessly with the rest of the Alliance. We’re confident that NATO will formally welcome them in soon, and when that happens, it will enhance the security of every NATO member, including the United States, including Türkiye.