Here are the full questions and answers on Turkey, January 13th, 2017:
MR TONER: Turkey.
QUESTION: Thanks. Over the past two weeks, there’s been another load of accusations/criticism from Turkey. Turkish officials have accused the U.S. of not doing enough to support Turkey in its operations in Syria, and with that they’ve questioned U.S. presence at the Incirlik base. Also, they blasted the U.S. for its support of Kurdish fighters in Syria. And a week ago, the Turkish energy minister, Berat Albayrak, said his ministry had come under a U.S.-originated cyber attack. What does the – and there have been other reports as well, but what does the totality of what you hear from Turkey tell you about U.S.-Turkey relations at this time?
MR TONER: Well, look, I’ll start from this absolute, which is that Turkey is an important partner and a NATO ally – longstanding NATO ally – of the United States, and we take our partnership and our relationship with Turkey very seriously. And we work at it hard and we understand the pressures that Turkey is under given its geographic location, the fact that its southern border with Syria – because of its southern border at Syria – with Syria, it’s seen a large influx of refugees fleeing the fighting in Syria. It’s also seen its territory be used as a transition or a transit point, rather – excuse me – for recruits to ISIL or Daesh. And we’ve also seen it, as we all know in this room and elsewhere, as an increasing target of Daesh-related terrorism or Daesh-instigated terrorism. So we understand and are sensitive to the pressures that Turkey is under.
That said, we’re also alarmed by some of the rhetoric that we’ve seen from various quarters in Turkey over the past weeks, some of which you remarked on. I mean, the idea that the U.S. is not actively countering Daesh, for example, is ridiculous given all that we’ve accomplished over the past year and a half in really reducing Daesh’s foothold in Syria as well as in Iraq. The other allegations that I won’t even address or speak to, but there’s a lot of ludicrous statements – and I’ll put it that way – out there about U.S. involvement in incidents and terrorist incidents in Turkey that are just – as I said, just beyond the pale. They’re just – they’re not only not true, but they’re harmful to our relationship.
QUESTION: Those – wait, those statements still – the ludicrous statements that you said —
MR TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: — they do not change and affect the absolute that you began with about Turkey being a partner and an ally?
MR TONER: Well, no. I mean, and I guess – I mean, we’re alarmed by these statements, but it in no way touches – in no way – I mean, as I – I tried to give you the framework of the context, that we understand that Turkey right now is under a lot of pressure – Turkish Government, Turkish people. They’ve been touched by terrorism. They’ve been affected by a influx of refugees. They’ve been affected by what’s happening in Syria and they’re concerned about it. But we are alarmed by some – as I said, some of the rhetoric and some of the claims being made about U.S. intentions and U.S. activities or lack thereof with regard to Daesh and other issues.
QUESTION: Looking at the past four, eight years, do you think relations with Turkey have deteriorated, have worsened, and if you agree with that, why?
MR TONER: I think that – I would never say that they’ve worsened. I would say that they’ve become more complex given the events happening in Syria that, as I said, have a direct effect on Turkey. And so we are in common cause when we’re going after Daesh. We – Turkey and the U.S. agree, as do many countries around the world, that Daesh needs to be rooted out, destroyed. And for Turkey it’s really a tangible threat on their border. But – we’ve talked about this a lot in this briefing – that is a complex environment, to put it mildly, in Syria, and we don’t agree on every issue or every approach with Turkey on destroying Daesh or removing Daesh from the battlefield.
That said, we are cooperating with them. We are talking through these things, and this is what mature countries and democracies do when they face these kinds of challenges. They talk through them. It’s not to say – it’s absurd to assume that countries, even allies, get along on every issue every day of the year. They don’t.
MR TONER: So I’m just saying, like, the fact that we have a mature relationship with Turkey, we talk through these issues, and we work with them to resolve them in a way that’s mutually acceptable to both countries.
QUESTION: In an op-ed, the Turkish foreign minister said, quote, “It is sadly true that the Turkey-U.S. bilateral relationship is under severe strain.” Do you agree with that assessment?
MR TONER: Again, I’d – no, I don’t want to characterize it in any way. I would say that when we do have concerns about some of the things that are said, some of the rhetoric that we see in Turkey and Turkish media or from Turkish officials, we make those concerns clear. And again, that’s part of having a mature, open, frank relationship with an ally like Turkey.
QUESTION: I just wanted to – you said, “I would never say that they have worsened,” in relation to U.S.-Turkey ties. What —
MR TONER: I did not say what – I just said, “I wouldn’t say that they’ve worsened,” no.
QUESTION: I mean, you said you would never – “I would never say that they were.” What if they had demonstrably worsened? Would you say it then?
MR TONER: (Laughter.) I’m sorry, I was —
QUESTION: Or are you just ignoring the fact that they have gotten —
MR TONER: I wasn’t trying to state categorically; I was simply making a point that I would not say emphatically that they have worsened. I think that they’ve – I was simply saying that they’re very complex right now. I’ll put it that way.
QUESTION: Right. But I mean, haven’t they demonstrably worsened?
MR TONER: Again, I think that that part of the world has gotten very difficult and they’re under enormous pressure. So I don’t want to say that they’ve worsened.