U.S Department of State
Office of the Spokesperson
For Immediate Release
February 16, 2018
SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, I want to thank Foreign Minister Cavusoglu for his hospitality during this visit, and I also want to express my appreciation to President Erdogan for the extensive amount of time he provided to me yesterday evening so we could have a very full discussion of both sides’ concerns but also a lot of discussion about the future and how we go forward from where we are today. I want to reaffirm the deep and important relationship between the United States and Turkey. Ours is not an alliance of convenience or of temporary interest. It is a time-tested alliance built on common interest and mutual respect.
Turkey was one of the first countries to join NATO. Turkish troops served alongside Americans in Korea, Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Kosovo. We have made many shared sacrifices together. We stand shoulder to shoulder with Turkey against terrorist threats. Turkey is a critical partner in the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, Daesh. We’re grateful that Turkey has allowed the United States and other NATO countries to base forces in Incirlik, and Turkey is the linchpin of strategic stability at the crossroads of the three continents.
Our two countries share the same objectives in Syria: the defeat of ISIS, Daesh; secure and stable zones; an independent and unified Syria; and help chart a new democratic future for Syria under the UN Security Council Resolution 2254 process. We are hopeful that the Geneva process will produce a new constitution for the Syrian people and elections to be held under UN auspices. A democratic future for Syria is essential for preventing ISIS from re-emerging and from stopping the suffering that the Assad regime has inflicted on the Syrian people. The Turkish Government and people deserve the gratitude and recognition for the unprecedented hospitality they have displayed in hosting more than 3 million Syrian refugees.
We recognize the legitimate right of Turkey to secure its borders. We take it seriously when our NATO ally Turkey says it has security concerns. As to Afrin, we call upon Turkey to show restraint in its operation to minimize the casualties to civilians and avoid actions that would escalate tensions in that area.
From the beginning, we’ve been transparent with Turkey regarding our objectives in Syria. Our relationship with our NATO ally Turkey is enduring and strategic. I again conveyed this message to President Erdogan and to the foreign minister today, as have many other U.S. officials. We have always been clear with Turkey that the weapons provided to the Syrian Democratic Forces would be limited, mission-specific, and provided on an incremental basis to achieve military objectives only.
We have long supported and will continue to support Turkish democracy. Respect for the rule of law, judicial independence, and an open press are a source of strength and stability. When Turkey maintains its commitment to these principles, it expands our potential partnership. We support the Government of Turkey’s right to bring the perpetrators of the 2016 coup to justice. It is important to handle these cases in a transparent and fair manner that respects human rights and fundamental freedoms. We continue to have serious concerns about the detention of local employees of our mission in Turkey and about cases against U.S. citizens who have been arrested under the state of emergency. We will continue to engage with our Turkish counterparts to seek a satisfactory resolution to these cases, and we call upon Turkey to release Pastor Andrew Brunson and other U.S. citizens whom we believe are being unjustly detained. With regard to Serkan Golge, we believe his release through the appeals process would be both just and appropriate.
I want to thank again President Erdogan and Foreign Minister Cavusoglu for the opportunity to discuss these and many other very, very important issues, and for the cooperation we both have been able to show one another and respect in charting a way forward in this relationship. The United States truly appreciates our long friendship with Turkey. We value it, and we look forward to strengthening it as we move forward. Thank you.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) My question to you: Before you said either these relations are going to go worse or going to be improved. You said today that you had taken a decision to normalize relations. Did you get the relevant warranties or safeguards from the United States that you were expecting from your side?
Another aspect: With respect to a news item that was reflected on the media, it was indicated that the troops on Manbij would be withdrawn to the eastern part of Euphrates and that this was a proposal that you brought. Did you make such a proposal indeed so that the American troops were withdrawn from that area, and how does American side resolve?
SECRETARY TILLERSON: In our discussions last night with President Erdogan, we brought forward proposals on how we can address all of the critical issues that are standing between this relationship today. And those will be addressed – some will be addressed in the joint statement that we will be releasing following this press avail. But the foreign minister did touch on a few of those, and we want to work specifically on the issues that are standing between us.
What we have agreed is our objectives for Syria are precisely the same. There are – there’s no daylight between Turkey and the U.S. objectives: defeat ISIS, stabilize the country, create stabilization areas so eventually refugees and internally displaced persons can begin to return home, and support the political solution for Syria that will result in a whole, independent, democratic Syria with no special demarcations dividing Syria and with the Syrian people selecting their leadership through free and fair elections. And we all share that same objective.
And now, going from this point forward, we are going to closely coordinate our efforts against the final defeat of Daesh. We do not have them fully defeated today, but we’re going to coordinate our efforts against the final defeat of Daesh as well as other terrorist groups that are located inside of Syria. We want to coordinate how to stabilize areas together and who will occupy those areas. And the objective and intent is to return these villages, these cities back to the composition of people who were there before they were overrun by Daesh. So we’re going to address Manbij first. It’s one of the first areas we’re going to work on. The United States made commitments to Turkey previously. We’ve not completed fulfilling those commitments. Through the working group we’re going to address that, and Manbij is going to receive priority.
But it’s not just Manbij. We have to think about all of northern Syria, and we’ve agreed on certain areas we’re – we’ll continue to work together, and then we’re going to coordinate very closely on supporting the Geneva process, because ultimately, that is the pathway to a peaceful, stable Syria. That improves Turkey’s security as well on its border when we can achieve that final peace.
QUESTION: Thank you. Mr. Secretary, there seems to be a little short on specifics here. Do you agree that you are talking about what you’re going to do in the future and you have not agreed on specific steps that will begin starting today? And can you explain why it has taken so long for two allies to come together with an agreement on what seems to be a very basic principle, that two allies will not shoot at each other in Syria and one will not give the other an “Ottoman slap”? Are you confident that in the future some of the rhetoric will be turned down, and what has been the hang-up?
SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, with respect to how we’re going forward – and that’s what all of the discussion here was about, recognizing where we find ourselves. And I think as the foreign minister indicated, we find ourselves at a bit of a crisis point in the relationship. And we could go back and revisit how we got here, but we don’t think that’s useful. We’ve decided and President Erdogan decided last night we needed to talk about how do we go forward. The relationship is too important, it’s too valuable to NATO and our NATO allies, it’s too valuable to the American people, it’s too valuable to the Turkish people for us to not do anything other than concentrate on how are we going forward.
And out of the meetings last night – and much of our staff was up through the night to memorialize how we’re going to go about this, and we’ll share a little bit of that in the joint statement. We’re going to reserve a lot of the details because there’s a lot of work yet to be done, and we – and our working teams need to be allowed to do that work in a very open, frank, honest way with one another so that we can chart the way forward together. And I think that’s the important point I want you to take away here, is we’re not going to act alone any longer. We’re not going to be U.S. doing one thing and Turkey doing another. We are going to act together from this point forward. We’re going to lock arms, we’re going to work through the issues that are causing difficulties for us, and we’re going to resolve them and we’re going to move forward with the future defeat of ISIS in terms of coordinating our efforts to complete this battle, which is not yet complete; to addressing other terrorist presence inside of Syria; to stabilizing areas and ensuring that the stability architecture, both security forces and governing councils, are representative of the conditions that existed in those cities before they were overrun by ISIS.
And we have good mechanisms on how we can achieve that, but there’s a lot of work to be done. People are going to have to roll their sleeves up. We’re going to get started very quickly. As the foreign minister said, we’re going to have the first round of these engagements before the middle of March. We know we need to move with some sense of urgency and promptness to address this, because we have a serious situation still inside of Syria, and we need to address that jointly together.
So I would say the specifics will emerge out of the work as we allow these groups to come together, but I think the objective, we’ve made clear as to what our objective is. So now we’re going to have a team of people working towards putting that in place and implementing it, and we’ve given you a little bit – just a little bit of a peek of some of the early priorities we’re going to place for these groups to work on.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Gonca Senay from TRT World. I have questions to both ministers. In terms of earning in the trust of the Turkish public, I think we listed the expectations on the Turkish side, but I do want to ask a question to Mr. Tillerson, especially reminding him of the budget drop that was proposed by Pentagon. Will the arms assistance provided to YPG by the United States of America – is it going to cease? And this morning, there was certain news that the Turkish soldiers would be acting together with the American soldiers in Manbij. Thirdly, will you take a step on the FETO issue?
SECRETARY TILLERSON: With respect to DOD’s budget for the coming year, only sufficient funds have been included in their budget to continue the defeat of ISIS campaign, and this is to continue to supply the SDF forces primarily with ammunition, because this fight goes on. There’s no more being provided than we believe is necessary to complete the battle to defeat Daesh.
The question of Manbij is one that, as I said, is going to be given priority in our joint working group effort, and this is one of – as the foreign minister indicated, one of the issues for us to work together on is what kind of security should be provided. Manbij is strategically a very important city from the standpoint of our defeat of Daesh but also our containment and ensuring that they do not re-emerge. It’s geographically important. That’s why the U.S. has left a troop presence in Manbij to ensure that that city remains under control of our allied forces and does not fall into the hands of others. So that will be a topic for discussion in terms of how we go forward to ensure Manbij remains within our control because of its strategic importance.
And we did agree – we had a lot of conversation last night with President Erdogan regarding the concerns over Fethullah Gulen back in the United States as well as his organization, and we’ve agreed that we will continue to examine all the evidence that can be provided to us. We will continue our own efforts at our own independent investigations to ensure that we know when illegal activities are being carried out in the United States, and we remain open and anxious to receive any new information and evidence that the Turkish Government can provide us as well. So it remains an open investigation with the United States.
QUESTION: Did you warn Turkey that they could be subject to sanctions under CAATSA legislation if they go ahead with the purchase of the S-400 system?
SECRETARY TILLERSON: We did discuss the impact of the CAATSA law that was passed by the Congress last summer that deals with purchases of Russian military equipment. I discussed it last night with President Erdogan; we had further discussions this morning about it. And indeed, it’s in the first group of issues that the foreign minister is referring to. We need to put a group of experts together, and we’ll look at the circumstances around that, as we’ve done with governments all over the world, not just Turkey, because the intent of that legislation was not to harm our friends and allies. But it is directed at Russia for its interference in our elections. So we’ve been advising countries around the world as to what the impact on their relationship and purchases that they might be considering with Russia, and many have reconsidered those and have decided to not proceed with those discussions.
Every case is individual on its own. We want to consult with Turkey and at least ensure they understand what might be at risk in this particular transaction. We don’t have all the details yet, so I can’t give you any kind of a conclusion, but it’ll be given very careful scrutiny, obviously, and we’ll fully comply with the law. And we are – we are now implementing CAATSA and fully applying it around the world.