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Background Briefing by a Senior Administration Official on Vice President Biden's Trip to Turkey

December 02, 2011

Aboard Air Force Two

En Route Istanbul, Turkey

3:21 P.M. (Local)

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So if this is helpful, I'll give you a quick readout of the Vice President's morning, some of which you saw, some of which you didn't at the meetings.

We started as you know at the breakfast with the Speaker. And the conversation focused in some detail on the constitutional reform process in Turkey that the Speaker is helping to lead. And the Vice President expressed his support for and our admiration for the very inclusive transparent process the Turks are engaged in to reform the constitution with many different stakeholders involved, including Kurdish parliamentarians, civil society, but mostly he listened to the Speaker explain the process and how they were going about it.

The Vice President noted that not only was this a historic opportunity for Turkey and for Turkey's citizens, but it also offered the possibility of making Turkey an even stronger example for countries in transition in the region, many of whom look to Turkey. And so there was an opportunity not only to change the lives of the Turkish people, but to influence the transition of many other -- many other peoples in the region.

And the Vice President noted some of the concerns that we've had with the judicial system and the desirability of reform there, as well as concerns about the detention of journalists and others, and the hope that the Turks would be addressing these issues through their reform efforts.

That was the bulk of the discussion. Really quite fascinating to hear the Speaker talk in detail about how they were going about it.

The only other issue that came up during the breakfast that the Vice President brought up was Armenia, and in particular, he expressed our hope that -- first of all, he applauded the fact that the protocols for normalization with Armenia were back on the agenda of the parliament. And he expressed his hope that the parliament will be able to act those protocols in the months ahead.

So that was the breakfast. I might add it featured an excellent selection of cheese, bread, pancakes -- really good. (Laughter.)

Then we went, as you all saw and took part in, to the Ataturk Memorial Mausoleum, and the Vice President laid the wreath, wrote in the book.


SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I see -- oh, you have the statement -- his written statement.

And from there it was on to President Gul, and they covered a lot of ground. The meeting went significantly over the planned time. I think we allotted an hour for the meeting, and I believe it went close to two. And that was a reflection of both the depth and breadth of the conversation that they had.

The Vice President has known President Gul for a number of years. They've met several times before. He has great appreciation for his wisdom and approach to problems. So in that meeting as I said they covered a lot of ground. They spent a lot of time on Iraq, mostly because, of course, we'd just come from there. And Gul and his colleagues were certainly interested to hear the Vice President's impressions.

The Vice President relayed some of the key points and take-aways from the trip, from his meetings. He made it very clear to the Turks that we are not disengaging from Iraq. The nature of our engagement is changing from military lead to civilian lead, but in many ways we were actually deepening our engagement.

He talked about the session of the High Coordinating Committee of the Strategic Framework Agreement, and the fact that we were working in a very comprehensive way with the Iraqi government to help it build and strengthen its institutions.

They discussed the PKK, and the Vice President reiterated our commitment to help the Turks deal with this problem, which is a common problem. He also conveyed that he had heard from Iraqis their commitment to do more to deal with the problem posed by PKK terrorism.

There was some discussion of Iran and Iranian influence in Iraq. The Vice President conveyed his view that the Iraqis have very strong antibodies to interference by anyone, starting with Iran. He noted the polling that shows that Iraqis of all persuasions do not abide by Iranian influence, and noted that Iranian efforts to dictate the outcome of the election and the government had failed.

They talked a little bit about prospects for the hydrocarbons law. The Vice President noted that several of his Iraqi interlocutors had told him that they thought there was a chance that this long delayed law could move forward in the weeks ahead.

They also touched on Arab-Kurd relations in Iraq, and that was pretty much it for the Iraq discussion. But it was lengthy.

They turned to Syria. The Vice President said he understood that the concern that some in the region had for the uncertainty about what might follow the Assad regime, but also underscored his conviction which the Turks share that Assad and his regime are the source of instability in Syria now and pose the greatest danger to fanning flames of sectarian conflict not only in Syria but beyond. And the number one objective was to get the regime to stop killing its people and for Assad to leave power.

There was discussion of Iran more broadly. The Vice President stated -- the Vice President said it was his assessment that Iranian influence in the region was declining and Iranian isolation was increasing as a result of its outrageous actions across the board from its refusal to come clean on its nuclear program and its violations of the nonproliferation treat, the attempt to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington, the assault on the British embassy in Tehran, the threat to Turkey and the NATO radar system and so forth.

And then just very quickly three other things came up in the meeting. Cyprus -- the Vice President expressed our hope that real progress can be made in the months ahead led by the United Nations and its efforts. They discussed Israel and its relationship with Turkey. The Vice President said that it is important to the United States that two of our closest friends and partners work to repair the damage to their relationship and the existing tensions, that that would be good for Turkey, good for Israel and good for us and expressed the hope that they would both work to seize any opportunities to do that.

And finally, he also raised with President Gul the same subject he'd raised with the Speaker, the Armenian protocols saying that again he was pleased to note that the protocols were back on the agenda of the parliament and hoped the parliament might be able to act on them.

That's it.

Q: Did the Vice President get clarity from the President on that issue of the international buffer zone, whether that was --


Q: It did not come up.


Q: Did they talk about tougher sanctions on Iran? He called in the Q&A that we saw in the newspaper for Iran to adopt tougher sanctions -- for Turkey to adopt tougher --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, it did not. That specifically did not come up in the meeting. It was a broader discussion of Iran: where it was going and the need to keep the pressure on to encourage them to change their behavior. But there was no specific reference to sanctions.

Q: Did you get any sense at all that the Turks might even want the U.S. to chill out a little bit on Iran?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, that certainly wasn't expressed.

Q: And you said that the Vice President expressed understanding for fears of instability after Assad. Did the President --


Q: The possible instability --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, but not -- and I'm not attributing that to the Turks.

Q: That's what I was about to ask you.


Q: Is it possible to get a few words, a read-out on the Barzani meeting?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure. We can do that. I think we're going to land. I don't know maybe we can do that --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Do it at the hotel. Let's get to the hotel, figure things out.

Q: Thanks.


END 3:33 P.M. (Local)

Barack Obama, Background Briefing by a Senior Administration Official on Vice President Biden's Trip to Turkey Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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