Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs
Assistant Secretary Gordon: Thanks very much. Delighted to be back in Turkey. I’ll be very brief because I think it’s most interesting if we just take your questions and engage in a conversation. I’m really here to engage with counterparts in the Foreign Ministry and elsewhere on the big issues of the day. We have such a wide ranging and important and deep relationship with Turkey on not only bilateral issues, but a full range of global issues from Afghanistan to Iran, to the Middle East, to the E.U. and much more. This is an opportunity for me to share our views with our Turkish counterparts and to hear from Turks the way they are thinking about these global challenges. We face some serious global challenges today. We need strong partners [and provide] a clearer view of the Obama Administration. Turkey is a strong partner and we value that partnership. This is actually my first official visit to Turkey in my new capacity. I know it may seem like nine months, but it’s actually only been five, I think, since I was confirmed and that has taken too long, obviously. I’ve had a lot of meetings and interaction with Turkish counterparts, but this is the first visit. It’s not long enough because we do have such a vast agenda with Turkey. I was in Berlin earlier this week for the 20th Anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall with Secretary Clinton. I went from there to Geneva, where we have ongoing talks on Georgia with Russia and the parties to the conflict, and I came from there here, because I wanted, at least a few weeks before Prime Minister Erdogan comes to Washington, to have a chance to have direct talks with Turkish officials and others. So, again, I’m delighted to be here and I look forward to your questions.
Question: Last week you made a statement on Turkish Iranian relations and then came the visit of Sudanese President’s possible visit but he didn’t arrive. I just wonder if you are in the same line with the thoughts that Turkey is in a “change of axis” nowadays?
Assistant Secretary Gordon: No, I think talking about a change of axis is a very significant exaggeration of what is going on in Turkey. Turkey has long had very strong and close relations with the West. We consider it to be a European country with significant ties and interests in Europe but also one that has always had a very active outreach to the Middle East and beyond. It is perfectly understandable and normal for Turkey to want close relations and to be highly engaged with its neighbors. It has borders with a lot of countries in the Middle East, Iran, Iraq, Syria and stakes in the greater Middle East and we are neither surprised by nor disturbed by an activist Turkish agenda in the Middle East. It doesn’t mean we always agree and we have our differences. You mentioned Iran. As you know, the United States is very concerned about the Iranian nuclear program or suspected nuclear weapons program, and we are reaching out to Iran and open to engagement with Iran, and we think we, together with our international partners, have put on the table a very realistic set of proposals about how Iran can reassure the international community that it’s not pursuing nuclear weapons. We have widespread international support for that. We work well with Turkey on that issue and one of the things I was here to talk about is how we move forward because we don’t think now is the time for business as usual with Iran and we want to make sure that everybody agrees on both tracks of our policy. Engagement and offers of cooperation but also an understanding that Iran needs to reassure the international community on its nuclear issue or there should be consequences.
Question: Regarding the democratic opening -- Are you happy with the way that the Turkish government is moving on this and are you hopeful that it will be a success?
Assistant Secretary Gordon: Well look. First point is it’s not for me or the United States to be happy or not happy with a domestic initiative by Turkey. This is for Turks to decide. That said, we are encouraged by the direction of [the way] things are going. We understand that it’s controversial within Turkey, but it does seem to be an opportunity to not only fully integrate all of Turkey’s citizens, but to get beyond the conflict that has been devastating for Turkey for many years and if Turkey can successfully navigate the process that it has undertaken, it does seem like it will provide an opportunity for more stability in Turkey, more peace in Turkey and more of a feeling of inclusion by all of Turkey’s citizens. Obviously, that is something that the United States would support.
Question: I want to go back to Iran and as a side issue on Sudan. . . We know what Prime Minister Erdogan has said on Iran . . . that Iran is not pursuing a nuclear agenda. . . Secondly, on Sudan. Is this complicating your Iran message as you are trying to present a unified message?
Assistant Secretary Gordon: As I said in response to the previous question, we are neither surprised by nor worried about Turkey’s engagement in the East where it has all sorts of legitimate interests and perspectives. But, I also said we don’t agree on everything and we certainly wouldn’t say things the same way. On Iran, we do believe it’s time for the international community to be speaking with one voice and for being clear that there are suspicions out there over Iran's nuclear program. Any comments that suggest there is nothing to worry about or that we should just take Iran at its word - unfortunately there has been too much evidence that suggest that we can’t just take Iran at its word. So, no we are not always saying exactly the same thing and that’s why we have such an open dialogue with our Turkish friends, because we think that this problem is hard enough. It requires international cooperation. We actually are pleased with the degree of international cooperation that we’ve seen. We had a very strong permanent five plus one Security Council statement in New York at the time of the U.N. General Assembly. We’ve been engaged with Russia on this topic and believe they’ve been saying constructive things. We believe that Turkey shares our concern about the Iranian nuclear weapons program, but it is true that some of the comments or alleged comments that you site do not reinforce the international consensus that we are trying to bring about.
On Sudan, we’ve been clear about what we think is happening there. It’s another case in which we believe international unity is essential to make clear what we, what our view of the situation is and that there shouldn’t be, people should understand what is happening and be clear about what is happening and not just give a pass to the leadership there.
Question: As a follow up to Iranian question there is a proposal on the table for Iran from the head of IAEA to officially convey its nuclear material to Turkey. And, the Turkish counterparts are saying that the Iranian officials are interested. How would you react to that proposal?
Assistant Secretary Gordon: As you know, in a meeting with the Iranian’s on Oct. 1st, Iran agreed in principle to send most of its low enriched uranium out of the country and we supported that proposal. We made that proposal. We welcome the agreement in principle to do so. The plan there involves sending that to Russia and having it then turned into fuel in France. Iran then, disappointingly, wobbled on that agreement in principle and suggested that it couldn’t do that and that it needed fuel first -- none of which was acceptable to us because we felt it important to get the fuel out of Iran so that it wouldn’t be susceptible to being used for a nuclear weapons program. Remember, the other part of that agreement on Oct. 1st was about allowing international inspections in Qum, a nuclear site that Iran had hidden from the international community for several years. So our suspicions, I think, and our need for reassurances is understandable. In the intervening time, Iran backtracked on that agreement in principle and since then, as you note, an idea has come up that instead of sending it to Russia, Iran might be prepared to send it Turkey. If Iran is prepared to send it to Turkey, that is something we would be happy to explore, because what matters to us is to get the low enriched uranium out of Iran, so that Iran wouldn’t have the opportunity to use it for a nuclear weapons program, and get it in a safe and secure place. We believe that Turkey would be a safe and secure place for that LEU. And, we would welcome Turkish support and cooperation in trying to tackle this problem.
Question: As we know there is close cooperation with the Turkish government and your administration on challenging against PKK terrorism. If the Turkish government or the Turkish army needs more contributions from your administration, are you ready to give more assistance to Turkey including common military incursions into Northern Iraq?
Assistant Secretary Gordon: I won’t get into the specifics of military or intelligence issues, but I would say that we consider the PKK to be a terrorist organization, we cooperate with Turkey very closely in our common struggle against the PKK already and we have a very close dialogue with Turkey on how it can pursue that military and political cooperation, so anything that can be helpful in that regard is certainly something we are prepared to talk to the Turks about.
Question: What was the number one issue with your contacts in Ankara, and ... what can we expect to be on the agenda during Prime Minister Erdogan's visit to the United States?
Assistant Secretary Gordon: Those two questions are interrelated. Turkey is so important on so many issues, it’s impossible to rank them. I really couldn’t. When you sit back and think about the importance of the Iran nuclear issue, the importance of Afghanistan where we have our troops fighting and dying and spending so much money together, when you think about the importance of Middle East peace and the consequences for the region, when you think about Turkey’s relations with Europe, when you think about the Armenian issue, when you think about energy -- Turkey just happens to be in a place where so many of our critical foreign policy and national security issues cross. And it’s just impossible and serves no purpose to try to rank them, because immediately you would look at the other issue and say well that’s equally important. So, we have to talk about all of them, and we do talk about all of them and that is also the answer to your second question. On the agenda for the PM and the President will be all of these critical issues that I mentioned and no doubt some more. And, no doubt there won’t be time to get to all of them. I think I at least, even I will refuse to rank them but by mentioning Iran, Middle East and Afghanistan and Europe first you know those are clearly in the top rank. But we also have very important issues - I mentioned the Turkey- Armenian normalization, Cyprus is very important; you have a new government in Greece, that relationship is important. The EU - so there are an awful lot of issues in the top rank and then many more in the next ranks that follows.
Question: One issue you didn’t mention was Iraq, perhaps as a Freudian slip? For Turkey, Iraq is very important especially regarding the PKK issue.
Assistant Secretary Gordon: It’s absolutely critical. It may not be a Freudian slip but it’s a slip in the sense that if it implied that it’s not critically important and we are not talking about it, then it is a slip because, obviously, both Turkey and the United States have huge interest in Iraq. We still have a hundred thousand troops in Iraq. It is true that, and maybe this is the Freudian element, in past years I could have answered your question [with Iraq] as a first. Because I would have said Iraq is the number one issue because it would have been for you and for us. Two or three years ago, by far and everything else would have been the next level down. Fortunately or unfortunately. Fortunately, because Iraq is a little bit less pressing simply because the level of violence has declined. We’ve managed to pull out some troops. It does seem to be on a path forward. Unfortunately, because the other issues and some cases have risen in the degree to which they are challenging. We’ve been working very closely with Turkey on Iraq. We are encouraged by some of the developments there on the electoral law. We are encouraged by the relationship that Turkey is developing with northern Iraq, which really does seem to be a historic opportunity to transform a relationship that in the past was very, very difficult. So, we are in close touch about it and it’s another key priority.
Question: Mr. Gordon, you have mentioned Cyprus and Afghanistan. These are somehow being linked at the top of the agenda, and the President of Afghanistan is becoming on the top of the agenda in the United States. There is a problem because of the Cyprus problem between European Union and NATO. Do you think that this will be an issue in the coming short period in the talks between the Prime Minister and the President?
Assistant Secretary Gordon: Well, yes, I’m sure that the Prime Minister and the President will discuss Cyprus. It’s an important issue to the United States. It’s an important issue to Turkey and it’s at a critical moment with the leaders in Cyprus engaged in direct talks and all of us hoping that those talks will move forward in the coming months. So, I’m sure they will take advantage of the opportunity to talk about it. I’m not sure what link to Afghanistan you are making. They are both issues that I’m sure our leaders will talk about in December.
Question: Turkish veto in NATO. Greek Cypriots . . . are preventing the cooperation between NATO and the European security force. . .
Assistant Secretary Gordon: Oh I see what you are saying.
Question: That’s what I mean. I understand that it is not an immediate problem on the agenda.
Assistant Secretary Gordon: We would like to see NATO in the European Union work more closely together and the differences over Cyprus prevent them from doing so and we regret that and they are looking for practical ways to move forward.
Question: Several days ago there have been moves by the United Kingdom, which has made an offer for giving up half of its territory on the island as an encouraging step for both sides in the talks. Will you also make such steps to encourage talks?
Assistant Secretary Gordon: I don’t know that we have anything analogous to propose. We don’t have a bases or territory on the island, but we do appreciate the spirit in which that offer was made and will see how the parties react to it. But the point is, I think, Britain was looking at the situation. They are interested in seeing the talks move forward. They are thinking creatively about how they might help and they are willing to make not just gestures, but concrete proposals to assist. We are prepared to do the same thing if there are concrete ways in which we can be helpful and creative ways in which we can be helpful, we absolutely want to do that. Again, there is nothing really analogous, because we don’t have territory or a presence to offer like they did. But we do have close ties to both sides and we want to help in any way we can, because we really think this is an opportunity for settlement on Cyprus. It’s good not only for both Cypriot communities but it eases relations between Turkey and Greece, eases Turkey’s path in the European Union and it really is what Americans would call “win, win.” Everyone benefits if there is a Cyprus solution.
Question: For follow up, to support the process, will the United States appoint a special representative?
Assistant Secretary Gordon: Secretary Clinton has said we want to be helpful and we are engaged. She is engaged personally and the issue of a special representative will be assessed simply in those terms. If we thought it could contribute then it’s certainly something we’d consider. Right now we are focused on the positive fact that the leaders are talking directly to each other. That’s a big change from past years; there are direct talks under UN leadership. That is the best way forward for now and we support that process. We are going to remain open to anything that we think could help advance the process.
Question: Can I ask you about the Caucuses? We have a new process between Turkey and Armenia. We don’t know where it will go yet, although . . . it is obviously linked because without some movement on Karabakh it would be very difficult for the Turkish Parliament to passing it. Now I do not want to ask just about the process with Armenia, but . . . are you optimistic about what’s going on? President Aliev was quoted coming out of the meetings saying nothing has been achieved. So where do we stand in this and how do you see this linkage between Karabakh and the Turkish-Armenian side?Assistant Secretary Gordon: Thanks for that. That’s another important set of issues. Let me take them up separately. On Turkey-Armenia we are very pleased that the countries reached this historic agreement on Oct. 10th, and that they signed the two protocols on normalization of relations and development of relations. This really is a historic process and from which both sides could benefit immensely. We applaud the courage and vision of the leaders on both sides. We know this wasn’t easy. There is lot of opposition in Turkey, there is lot opposition in Armenia and yet the leaders were insightful enough and bold enough to make the case that this is in their interest and go and sign the protocols. We supported that process and we applaud their agreement to do so. We would like to see it move forward. The protocols have been referred to Parliaments for ratification and obviously they need to be ratified before they are implemented. If they can be ratified and implemented then this can lead to open borders, more trade, prosperity and peace among neighbors. So, that’s why we are so strongly supportive of this process.
Now, the Nagorno-Karabakh issue you raised, you are right to say that Turkish leaders have said that they see the prospects for ratification dim unless there is progress in Nagorno-Karabakh. We don’t link the two issues because we think that they are both, that Turkey-Armenia normalization is important and a good thing in its own right. It shouldn't be linked to anything else and we also support Nagorno-Karabakh settlement because we think it would benefit both parties and it doesn’t need to be linked to anything else. So we are actively working as co-chairs of the Minsk group on the Nagorno-Karabakh solution, regardless of anything else. It would benefit both sides - that’s a conflict that led to many thousands of deaths and displaced persons and current tension and closed borders. So for the same reason we want to promote reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia we want to promote it between Armenian and Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh to be engaged from that process. It’s difficult; if it wasn’t then it wouldn’t be stuck where it is for so long. But there, too, the leaders are talking to each other. In any negotiation people drive hard bargains, but we think that the reality that both sides would benefit from a settlement gives us some optimism that a settlement can be reached and that would really be historic progress for the region if both of those things could move forward in the near future.
Question: The headlines these days in Turkey is not about Iraq, not about Caucasus or not about Cyprus, about this secret [Ergenekon] case going on . . . I know you cannot comment on the specifics of the case, but I am wondering how closely you follow the case and what are the general guidelines in your approach if there are any?
Assistant Secretary Gordon: Well, I think you, I mean I can answer the part of your question about how closely you follow it we do and I do personally very interested in things that dominate the headlines in Turkey and .. Is it exciting?
Assistant Secretary Gordon: Everything I do is exciting. Europe provides no end of excitement but look as you note when you have judicial and political internal developments, we’re they’re not for us. We watch you closely because that has an impact of one of our key partners but other than that I can’t come in.
Question: Mr. Gordon, regarding this democratic opening. The opposition in Turkey has been accusing the Turkish government that the democratic opening is actually orchestrated by US. . .In order to make things clear, do you agree with some part of these speculations? Of course you’d say no but how would you describe these conspiracy theories? Did you ever send any signal to Turkish side either last week or the year before last year to actually encourage Turkish government to take some steps on democratic opening? Because opposition has been insisting the saying that this is an American plan, the government is just going through the motions.
Assistant Secretary Gordon: Look, I said earlier that the democratic opening is an internal Turkish matter. We support it because we believe, as I already noted, that it can contribute to stability and reduce conflict and provide for a feeling of inclusion among Turkey’s citizens. So yes, we support it but we’re not driving it, inventing it or even influencing it. So that’s what I have to say about that. In general, in terms of you refer to conspiracy theories or the US role. As a general rule I can say that it is often exaggerated, people often see the United States behind all sorts of things that take place in Turkey or the region. I can only say [that] I wish we were as influential as people make us out to be.
Question: Turkey and Israel. Somehow it has had an effect on US also [referring to Anatolian Eagle exercise]. The US took its planes from the exercise as well. It seems that the relations between the two countries somehow has been [affected]. So how would you comment on this?
Assistant Secretary Gordon: Americans watch closely Turkey’s relations with all of its neighbors and when Turkey says it wants to have zero problems with its neighbors and wants to have good cooperative relations with its neighbors, I think most Americans hope that includes Israel. As I think it does. So, it is something that people pay attention to. The Turkey-Israel relation with Israel is unique and important. Turkey has demonstrated over the years that that it can have strong relations with Israel even as it has strong relations with Arab countries and Muslim countries. We consider that to be a good thing.
Question: We have been reading, of course, the Western press, mostly American press, and we have been very surprised or sometimes shocked over the stories we have read so far, especially, in recent weeks after the crisis with Israel. Some of those comments mostly focused on Turkey’s axis, and that its shifting of its axis from East to West is worrying Western circles. Do you agree with those comments?
Assistant Secretary Gordon: Well, I think I addressed that before and I don’t see any turning of Turkey’s axis. I think Turkey was and remains a country with very strong and close ties to the West and certainly to us. And we’re not surprised by or worried by, as I said, Turkey’s engagement and interest in the East. It is true that a lot of people in the West pay attention to what Turkey does and are asking questions when they hear comments that seem out of touch with broad Western views of certain situations. So, I’m not saying that there aren’t questions that are being asked, but I think that we are very confident that Turkey remains a close partner of ours and a great friend and partner of the West and Europe.
Question: Regarding Iran, you talk about the consequences. What are the consequences?
Assistant Secretary Gordon: We haven’t spelled out specific consequences beyond the measure and sanctions that are already in place and that the Security Council and others have already agreed to – there are already consequences for Iran’s failure so far to abide by UN Security Council resolutions, Chapter 7 resolutions. So there are some already in place. Further ones we haven’t spelled out in detail because we don’t want to get there precisely we want to avoid that situation. We want engagement to work. It’s not just a phase that we want to get through before we get through our preferred approach and sanctions. It’s the opposite. We want to succeed in dialogue and engagement and reassurance of the international community that Iran is not producing or seeking to produce nuclear weapons. What we’re saying is that engagement dialogue process can’t go on forever without a response. And, --
Question: Do you have a deadline?
Assistant Secretary Gordon: We don’t have a date but President Obama has said that if by the end of the year Iran hasn’t positively responded to the very significant and serious engagement that the international community has proposed then we’re going to have to think about the other track and that’s where I think we have a broad international consensus. We want, we want one because it only works if most or all countries are involved. We don’t want it to get to that point, but really we do believe that there need to be consequences for rebuffing international community because if not then we’re effectively saying that “it’s ok” to violate the NPT, that “it’s ok” to produce nuclear weapons and, more importantly, more concretely, we will see proliferation among other countries and that would be very dangerous and destabilizing. So, that’s why it’s so important to us.
Question: Is Iran’s gradual flexibility, is approvable to you? And if so, can we talk about gradual easing of sanctions accordingly?
Assistant Secretary Gordon: Well, you have to define gradual flexibility.
Question: They send low enriched uranium to Turkey or to Zambia or anywhere else, outside Iran. Would you consider that in the agreement and then do you think some ease in sanctions will be possible?
Assistant Secretary Gordon: I think we have to define precisely what was necessary for Iran to begin to assure the international community. Certainly, full implementation of the October 1 agreements to get the fuel out and to allow the IAEA in to the facility at Qum would be a major step forward. It would probably lead most countries to think that we shouldn’t move forward on further sanctions as we give this a chance to work. Then, as it works further, could even think about the status of the current sanctions that are in place. But this will be a process that will take more than -- you know getting the LEU out of Iran would be one step but it actually wouldn’t deal with the heart of the matter which is Iran’s enrichment program. It would buy time for the international community but Iran would still be enriching uranium which is what the UN Security Council has said it can’t do, unless and until it reassures the IAE that it is not, doesn’t have a nuclear weapons program. So, the heart of the matter remains Iran’s fuel cycle or enrichment program. So, even the LEU agreement, it would be a step towards establishing that trust and cooperation that we need to see and it would buy time, but I would say that it still, it’s not a sufficient step to reassure the international community, nor even to fulfill the Security Council resolutions that have been agreed.
Question: Mr. Gordon, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan made a speech in UN on 8th September and complained [about] the nuclear weapons which Israel has and said in our region there should be no nuclear weapons in any country, not only Iran, and that Turkey’s policy is supporting no country in the region in the Middle East should have nuclear weapons. So, as we talk Iran more and more -- what about Israel, what’s the policy of your administration about Israel’s nuclear weapons?
Assistant Secretary Gordon: You know, President Obama has also said that he’s like to move towards the world and which nobody has nuclear weapons and that’s a long term goal of the US. We don’t think that mentioning or bringing out or debating other countries’ nuclear programs is an answer to the question of Iran that we’re all focused on. You know, Pakistan has nuclear weapons, India has nuclear weapons and you know, we can talk about all sorts of other things but it doesn’t change the fact that you have Iran moving towards a nuclear weapons capability that would probably lead others in the region to develop nuclear weapons and make the situation more dangerous. So, that’s what we’re focused on, that’s what the international community is focused on. Whatever other issues or problems out there that needs to be dealt with shouldn’t distract this from this critical and short term issue.
Question: So, do you mean the nuclear weapons in Israel are not a threat in the region?
Assistant Secretary Gordon: Israel’s nuclear situation has been stable and status quo for a long time. We would all like to see a situation in the Middle East where nobody felt they needed nuclear weapons including Israel. And that’s what we’re trying to work on and we have a very active Middle East policy, Middle East approach in place. We’ll continue to engage vigorously to try to increase stability and security in the Middle East to the point where nobody feels that they need a nuclear weapons program. My point is that, we can’t wait until we achieve that goal to start focusing on developments that are taking place as we speak. If we hold off on what we need to do vis-à-vis the Iran’s and the North Korea’s in the world, until we get to the point where there’s enough security in the Middle East that nobody feels the need to have a nuclear weapons program -- we will fail. So, we completely agree that we need to work on Middle East and the situation between Israel and its neighbors, but, I don’t want to let that reality divert us from what remains a very serious situation.
Question: Regarding Afghanistan . . . How do you evaluate Turkish efforts in Afghanistan and what else are you sort of expecting?
Assistant Secretary Gordon: We evaluate Turkish efforts very positively. I said at the beginning that we don’t agree on every issue; that’s only normal for two different countries in different parts of the world, with such a challenging global agenda. There are some issues where we have greater differences on; there are other issues where we really working absolutely hand and glove and I think Afghanistan is one of them. We have a common interest in stabilizing the place on behalf of the Afghan people that have suffered so much, on behalf of regional security and on behalf of our own security. Turkey’s played an active role, devotes resources, knows the country very well. We have I think a particularly close working relationship with Turkey, senior Turkish officials have travelled in recent months to Washington for intensive discussions on this. We’re now going to send the team of specialist back to Turkey for further intensive discussions. This is, you know I don’t want to get into comparisons, but at least as much or more than we do with other international parties where Afghanistan is concerned. We can learn a lot from the Turks. Turks can do things in Afghanistan that we can’t do. Turks know things about Afghanistan that we don’t know. So, this is one of those global areas that we’re working very well together with, we very much value what Turkey’s doing. We need to do this as a united international community and certainly our bilateral relationship there is very good.
Question: Are you expecting specific commitments?
Assistant Secretary Gordon: We’re not to the point of asking or expecting specific commitments from different members of the international community. What we do think and have made clear is that as the President is coming to a decision about our own resources for Afghanistan, in terms of troops and other things, we know we need to do more and we hope and expect other countries will come to the same conclusion that they need to do more. That applies to everybody who is contributing to Afghanistan. We don’t want this to be an American war. We can only succeed if it’s the united international community. The international effort in Afghanistan is remarkable. The number of countries that are doing what they can is critically important and we want that to continue and as we devote more resources to Afghanistan, we hope that our friends will do the same. If we all do that, we have a real chance to succeed.
Moderator: One last question?
Assistant Secretary Gordon: [laughter] Well, if that’s the case then thank you all very much.