Thursday, August 18, 2016

US is concerned by the aggressive use of Turkish judicial inquiries to curb free speech

DPB #145
Briefer: John Kirby, Spokesperson

MR KIRBY:  Thank you.  Okay.  I’ve got a few things at the top, so please bear with me, and then we’ll get right to your questions. 

First on Turkey.  The United States condemns today’s horrific bombings in Elazig and Bitlis.  Our friend and ally, Turkey, has suffered several outrageous terror attacks this week, including today’s, the August 15th attack in Diyarbakir, and – that killed seven people, one of whom was a child, and yesterday’s attack in Van.  We offer our condolences, obviously, to the families of all those victims and we wish a speedy recovery for those that are wounded in attacks.  And it’s a grim reminder of still the threat from terrorism that the Turkish people continue to face.

QUESTION: Now, you began by condemning today’s PKK terrorism in Turkey, and the PKK attacks now seem to be escalating and becoming more bloody. But at the same time, the Turkish Government is using a heavy hand against peaceful Kurdish political activity, including the indictment last week of Selahattin Demirtas, the head of the HDP, the third-largest party in the Turkish parliament. What is your view of this? Do you think that Ankara might be making a serious mistake in denying Turkish Kurds a democratic alternative to the PKK?
MR KIRBY: Well, as I said, we did condemn the violence there in Turkey, and I have seen the reports about Mr. Demirtas, and we are following that issue, that very specific issue. As we said before, we’re concerned by the aggressive use of judicial inquiries to curb free speech and political discourse in Turkey. And we support have and always will support freedom of expression there, and we’re going to continue to oppose any action to encroach on the right to free speech.

US: We are certainly not concerned about Turkey-Russia Reproachment
QUESTION: I have a quote here. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said, quote, “It seems to us that NATO members behave in an evasive fashion on issues such as the exchange of technology and joint investments. Turkey intends to develop its own defense industry and strengthen its defense system. In this sense, if Russia were to treat with this with interest, we are ready to consider the possibility of cooperation in this sector,” end quote. Is there – is that a fair criticism of NATO, and do you think it is a good idea for the NATO ally to cooperate with Russia in the defense sector?
MR KIRBY: Well, there’s a lot there. First of all, I haven’t seen those comments, but let’s put that aside for a minute. Turkey remains a NATO ally and an important partner in the fight against Daesh, and we expect both those relationships, those multilateral relationships, to continue. I can’t speak for NATO, but the United States, as a member of NATO, has every expectation that Turkey’s membership in the alliance will continue and continue to be important to alliance operations around the world.
As for a change or modifications to the bilateral relationship between Turkey and Russia, that’s between them. And there’s certainly no prohibition against that. There’s no reason for anybody to be concerned. We’re certainly not concerned that – if Turkey and Russia are going to work out a new or different bilateral relationship, based on security and defense issues. That’s for them to decide.
We still value Turkey’s membership in the alliance. We still value Turkey’s membership and contributions as part of the coalition against Daesh. And as I said, we’re going to continue to look for ways to see that deepen and strengthen.

QUESTION: Cavusoglu also described Turkey as being treated as, quote/unquote, a second – by the U.S. and NATO as quote/unquote, “a second-class country.” We hear U.S. officials say Turkey is a strong ally, and there seems to be a disconnect between what U.S. officials say and what the Turkish leadership expresses. Why the disconnect?
MR KIRBY: Well, I can’t explain – first of all, again, I haven’t seen those comments, so I’m not going to speak to the veracity of them. If there are views inside Turkey that there’s some disconnect, they can speak to that. What I can tell you from our perspective is what I said before – they’re a valued ally and a partner and a friend, and we want to continue to see Turkey succeed. We want to see Turkey’s contributions in the international community on many levels – not just the security sector, but on many levels – continue. And so we’re going to work to that end.
QUESTION: Over the past many months, Turkey has accused the U.S. of all kinds of things, including supporting terrorists, including siding with coup plotters. Do you think this is business as usual, or has something changed?
MR KIRBY: What business as usual?
QUESTION: Turkey making all these accusations. And does this sound like business as usual?
Because it sounds like you’re trying to say that everything is normal, but --
MR KIRBY: I didn’t everything is normal. I said they remain a key ally, partner, and friend, and that hasn’t changed. I mean, that’s just a fact.
QUESTION: What has changed?
MR KIRBY: That’s – well, what’s changed is Turkey’s under a little bit of stress right now, having faced a failed coup attempt. And we’ve already addressed our concerns about some of the rhetoric coming out from some Turkish leaders about the role of the West or the role of the United States, and we’ve obviously flatly rejected any insinuation or allegation that the United States had anything to do with that. Again, Turkey’s a friend and an ally, and we’re going to continue to look for ways to make that partnership continue to grow. But we’re not doing it with a blind eye here. We understand that there are – there’s a lot of stressors in Turkey right now. We want because we want Turkey to succeed, we’re not afraid – when we see things that concern us about judicial processes and about freedom of the press, we’re not afraid to state privately and publicly our concerns, because Turkey’s future matters so much to us.

QUESTION: One more on Turkey. What is your reaction to Gulen’s latest comments, likening – sorry – Erdogan’s latest comments likening Gulenists, or followers of Gulen, to those of Daesh?
MR KIRBY: Well, look, as I’ve made a practice of doing in the past, I’m not going to respond to every single issue raised publicly out of Turkey. I hadn’t seen the comments by the foreign minister. And while I’ve seen those comments, I’m not going to respond to every sentence that’s uttered out of Turkish leaders.
What we think would be most helpful is that we move beyond issues of rhetoric and try to look for ways to keep the cooperation and the relationship strong with Turkey. We have already and repeatedly condemned the coup attempt. We understand Turkey has an obligation to look after its own security. What we’ve said then and what we continue to say now is that we want Turkey to do that in a way that is in keeping with international law and their own obligations and fair judicial processes. So again, I’m not going to respond to every statement.

QUESTION: It’s a pretty strong accusation to say the United States is harboring someone like a Daesh leader.
MR KIRBY: I think you know our position on their concerns over Mr. Gulen. I think you also know well and we’ve made clear our position about what happened in the failed coup and the responsibility for it. I don’t have anything more to add to that.

QUESTION: In fairness to Suzanne, you’re not being asked to comment on every statement out of Turkish leaders, just the ones we ask you about. But in any case --
MR KIRBY: They’re the ones I’m not going to respond to. (Laughter.) 

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