George W. Bush photo

Press Background Briefing on the President's Meeting with President Gul of Turkey by a Senior Administration Official

January 08, 2008

Via Teleconference

2:43 P.M. EST

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Good afternoon. I just wanted to make a few opening remarks, and then spend most of the time taking your questions. I'm sure you've all seen the remarks that President Bush and President Gul made following their meeting today. They had a very good meeting. The discussion covered a wide range of issues, which reflects the strategic partnership and the close ties our two countries enjoy.

They discussed our common efforts on terrorism, including our efforts against the PKK, which the President again described today as a common enemy of Turkey, the United States and Iraq. They also discussed the President's trip to the Middle East, which he will leave on this evening. They talked about Afghanistan, where Turkey is part of the NATO force there, with over 1,200 troops. They also talked about Turkey's involvement in reconstruction activities -- its building of hospitals and schools and the like.

They discussed Pakistan. President Gul has visited President Musharraf, visited him last month. They talked about Iraq, where Turkey has played a major role in the Expanded Neighbors process, which they hosted -- they hosted the last meeting in Istanbul. They discussed Iran and their shared interest in having a nuclear weapons-free Iran.

They also discussed Turkey's EU membership aspirations, which the President once again stated the strong support of the United States for this -- for Turkey's EU membership; and discussed energy issues and Cyprus.

So I think I will leave it there and turn over now for any questions that you might have.

Q: Thank you. I'm wondering if you can let us know, one, on what energy issues were discussed, and two, if the issue of Kirkuk in Iraq was discussed at all.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Okay. On energy, they had a discussion about Turkey playing a role as a transit hub in bringing energy resources from the Caucasus in Central Asia to Europe. Turkey has been in discussions with a lot of the countries in those regions on energy. President Gul has traveled to a number of those nations. So they talked about it in the context of alternative routes and alternative access to energy for Europe.

Kirkuk was discussed, and President Gul raised the issue, and talked about the U.N. process that's underway there in Kirkuk now, and emphasized the need for all of the people in that area to be part of that process. And the President expressed his support for the U.N. process in Kirkuk.

Q: My question is, you mentioned that they discussed the Cyprus issue. To which effect? Can you elaborate?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes. They discussed the need to find a solution to the longstanding issue on Cyprus, and the President again talked about his support of the U.N. process in the hopes that there might be a way to move that process forward.

Q: And did they touch the Greek-Turkish relations?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: They did not have a lengthy discussion on that, although I note that the Greek Prime Minister is going to be traveling to Turkey later this month.

Q: What about Balkans, and specifically Kosovo?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: They did talk about Kosovo, and they talked about the need for a solution on Kosovo. As you know, Turkey has 700 troops in -- or, almost 800 troops in KFOR. So they talked about the need for a solution on Kosovo -- a rapid resolution on Kosovo.

Q: And you mentioned also Iran. Can you elaborate what exactly they discussed about Iran?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: They talked about both countries not wanting to see an Iran with nuclear weapons, and the need for Iran to suspend its enrichment programs. Along the same lines that we have been discussing with other members of the international community at the U.N.

Q: Thank you.


Q: Both the Presidents talk about strategic partnerships, so my question is about that. How will strategic partnerships be when (inaudible)? Are there any specifics projects about -- especially the energy cooperations?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Okay, in terms of the strategic partnership, I think that describing our relations in that way just is a reflection of the fact that we deal with a whole range of issues with Turkey, not just bilateral issues, but issues, security issues around the world, as reflected in some of the issues that I mentioned that were covered in the meeting today. So that's -- when we talk strategic partnership, it's because we work with Turkey -- the U.S. and Turkey work together on a number of the challenges that face us around the world.

In terms of the energy issue, we have worked with the Turkey in the past on -- tried to cooperate on energy issues. We will continue to do that. It's in our interests, it's in Turkey's interests, and in Europe's interests, to have alternative sources of energy in Europe.

Q: Thank you.

Q: Good afternoon. In terms of fighting against the PKK, what kind of efforts would you like to see on the Turkish side? Would you like to see a solution to the PKK problem and Turkish Kurdish question through political means inside Turkey? And has this issue been discussed in the meeting?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Okay. There was a lengthy discussion of PKK, and a whole bunch of different solutions to the problem. The discussion was along the lines of having a comprehensive solution to the PKK problem, which means not just military action, but also political action, including things within Turkey -- economic, political development, social development in the southeast, which, as you know, this Erdogan government had done and the Gul government will continue.

So there are -- you know, there was discussion, as there is when we deal with terrorists in different parts of the world, that you have to provide an alternative so that the terrorists are not as attractive to various groups of people. So there was that discussion.

There's also, as the President and the Prime Minister discussed in November, increased intelligence sharing that we have been conducting with the Turks, and military cooperation to deal with the PKK issue. So there was a range of different issues.

Also, one thing that's very important is working with Iraq in this, because the Iraqis have taken some actions as well. Maliki, in particular, has spoken against having the PKK -- having terrorists on his soil.

So I think all three countries are working together on this, and we're continuing that kind of joint cooperation on this problem.

Q: And just one minor follow-up?


Q: Were the two Presidents in agreement that it requires a comprehensive effort, and not only military methods?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I wouldn't want to characterize President Gul. I think there will be plenty of opportunities for you to ask that question, but they certainly had the discussion, and I think that President Gul has made comments in the past about the Kurdish population in Turkey. As you know, he's done a lot with the Kurdish population, so I think that he recognizes that. But I would urge you to ask him that question.

Q: Thank you.

Q: I wanted to ask you about whether the discussion came up -- the topic came up related to the natural gas deal that Turkey is considering with Iran, and that is in the works. Did that come up, and if so, in what way, and what was the U.S. message? What was President Bush's message on that?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That issue did not come up for discussion.

Q: And can you tell me why, why he's chosen not to bring -- because that it is an issue that Secretary -- Under Secretary Burns and others have raised as a serious matter in the past.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, it was an issue that the President did discuss with Prime Minister Erdogan, but they just -- today they just had a whole list of issues that they just didn't get to that one. I don't there's anything that you should read into that other than they had a very lengthy list of issues to discuss. And as you know, the --

Q: Has the (inaudible) been resolved related to that issue, as far as you know?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm not aware of anything on that issue. I don't think anything has proceeded on it. But I'd urge you to do some follow-up with the Turks on that.

Q: Okay, thank you.

Q: Yes, thank you very much. I'd like to ask you about the comprehensive solution to the PKK problem. Could you maybe give some more specifics to this discussion? What kind of particular solution could it be for the PKK, and what kind of cooperation could the U.S. give on that? Are you -- is there any -- was there any talk about the amnesty, or any specifics on that?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There really wasn't a discussion so much on the specifics of the issue; more on the general approach to have outreach to the -- on the Kurdish side. And this is within southeast Turkey. And as you know, as I said, the Erdogan government and President Gul have already initiated some measures along those lines. But the two Presidents didn't get into the specifics of either amnesty or what the -- what all the elements of a comprehensive solution should be. They talked a little bit more broadly on that issue.

Q: Can I just -- a quick follow-up, maybe?


Q: I was wondering if -- you mentioned that there is -- there might be a political solution, or they could look for a political solution to the PKK, inside the Turkey as well as the northern Iraq, or just the northern Iraq?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I wouldn't want you to read too much into the comments. I think that it's more broadly that as we deal with terrorists, I think that everybody recognizes that there is not just solely a military solution to the terrorist issue -- and that's really the context in which I made those comments. And it would be in Turkey as well as in northern Iraq, and wherever we have the PKK problem.

Q: Okay, thank you so much.


Q: On Cyprus, we have a stalemate for almost four years. Did the two Presidents discuss any timetable of how fast we can move, and if they discussed also some practical steps of how to move?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, they just discussed the fact that there has been a stalemate since the referendum in 2004, and the desire of both to get that process, the U.N. process, moving again. But they didn't discuss any specifics for how to get that moving. But I would note that President Gul is going to be going -- after his stop here in D.C., he'll be going up to New York and will be talking to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to discuss this issue as well, and he mentioned that to the President.

Q: And also, the Euro-Turkish relations, is -- you think the United States is happy with the way the change is moving Turkey?


Q: The European Union had posed some prerequisites for Turkey to make some changes, constitutional changes. Is the United States happy with the pace of these changes?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think that, you know, that Turkey has reforms to make, as does everyone who is seeking EU membership. And the Turks have been making some reforms, and we expect that they will continue to make more.

Q: Thank you very much.

Q: I'm still unclear as to what this comprehensive/political solution concerning the PKK would look like. Dana mentioned today a long-term political solution; you've talked about a comprehensive solution. Can you give us the broad contours of what the U.S. position is on that? And a more specific question: Do regional Iraqi Kurdish leaders have a seat at the table?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We have been urging the Turks to deal with Iraqis, both at the central government and regional. And there has been some outreach, and we will -- we hope and we expect that there will be more because, as the President said, this is an issue that Turkey, the U.S. and Iraq have to work on together. But in terms of a comprehensive or a long-term or however you want to call the solution to the PKK, I think it just recognizes the fact that the military will only be one part of dealing with this terrorist threat. And working politically and improving the lives of the Kurds within Iraq -- within Turkey, excuse me -- to make sure that there isn't a disaffected minority that would be a recruiting pool for the PKK is also part of a long-term solution to that issue. So that's what we'll talk about in terms of a long-term.

Q: Okay.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So it's pieces. There's a military piece, there's a political and economic piece. That's the concept behind that.

Q: Coming out of this meeting, was there any specific that President Bush committed to, in terms of -- is economic aid something that Washington could provide? Is that the kinds of things that you're looking at?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Actually, it's just really a continuation of what he discussed with Prime Minister Erdogan, which is more on the intelligence and the military side. Of course if the Turks ask for or request any assistance, that's something that we would obviously look at very favorably.

Q: And one final one. Does this discussion have a place in U.S.-Turkish discussions about the U.S.-Iraq discussions on a long-term strategic relationship?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm not sure exactly what the question is, but I will say that --

Q: The President said that (inaudible) rounds of talks between the United States and Iraqi officials to set the stage -- to set the framework for a long-term strategic relationship. Is a resolution of the PKK situation part of the long-term U.S.-Iraq strategic relationship?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm sorry, that's just not something that I'm familiar with. I'd feel much more comfortable if you talk to our Iraq people. I will say that President Gul was very clear about Turkey's desire for stability in Iraq, for security in Iraq, pointing out that Iraq is on their border and it's in their interest to have a stable Iraq. And as I mentioned, they have played a role in the Expanded Neighbors process, and President Gul himself, when he was foreign minister, played a role in having Sunnis join the government within Iraq.

So I think that Turkey has expressed an interest in long-term stability in Iraq. It's something that we want to work with them on.

Q: Great, thanks.


Q: Hi, I have a couple of questions. First of all, I'm trying to get a sense of whether there was actually news produced out of this visit or whether this was a feel-good, let's get together, consolidate the stronger relations we've been developing in recent months. Can you give me some guidance on that? And secondly, there's been increased cooperation on intelligence, as you know, when it comes to the PKK. Did the Turks ask for anything additional in the way of assistance in dealing with the PKK?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: In terms of the news out of the visit, it's just -- it was the first visit by a Turkish President -- and President Gul, first visit by President Gul to the United States. I think it's just a affirmation of the good ties that we have with the Turks. And it was really a continuation of the discussion that the President has with Prime Minister Erdogan, a lot of the same issues. But obviously, I think it shows that U.S.-Turkish relations are very strong at this point, and we had a broad range of issues to talk about, and the President is in touch with Turkish leaders on a fairly regular basis.

I don't know about news, other than whatever you might think of whether there was anything out of that. Obviously it was a good visit.

In terms of -- I'm sorry, your second was --

Q: Was about intelligence --


Q: Did the Turks ask for anything additional?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I mean, we -- they got a pretty broad commitment when the Prime Minister was here. Obviously they were pleased with the affirmation of that commitment that we will continue to work with them and work with the Iraqis on the PKK problem, which the President again described as -- PKK as a common enemy of the three countries. It wasn't anything more specific.

Q: And one last thing. Did the administration, either at the State Department or at the White House or in other -- any of the meetings, are they going to ask the Turks to relay any kind of message to Iran, because it on the nuclear issue, the confrontation in the Persian Gulf yesterday, or at any level?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Nothing that I'm aware of on the confrontation yesterday. But in terms of Iran, obviously the message would be to stop their enrichment. And that's been pretty consistent -- pretty consistent message from our government, whether it be to the Turkish government or any other government that interacts with Iran.

I'm not familiar with the discussions with the State Department, and I know there have been a number of them.

Q: But I just wondered if you -- if we actually asked Gul to relay a message to Iran on our behalf.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We didn't request anything, although if there is any discussion -- we didn't ask him to go and talk to the Iranians, but if there is any discussion, he knows what our message is, if he has one.

Q: Thank you.

Q: Hi. Was there any discussion related to any kind of commercial energy deals between Turkey and the U.S., or between companies related to nuclear power, for example, anything like that?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, it was really more a -- a more general discussion about how Turkey could play a leadership role in the area -- it's a transit country -- to bring Central Asia -- gas from Central Asia, primarily in the Caucasus, to Europe. But there was no specific discussion about commercial -- any particular deal or any particular company.

Q: Okay, thank you.

Q: Going back to the issue of Kirkuk, did the President agree on the future of Kirkuk and any specific -- and any detailed agreements?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, they didn't really have a detailed agreement on it. It was more talking about the U.N. process. And there is a U.N. representative up there now who has the confidence of -- certainly of our government, and I believe the Turkish government. But again, I'd led them speak on that.

And there's a process underway, but they didn't speak about what the solution should be -- just support for that process and watching the process develop.

Q: Did either of them talk about the role of each of their countries over the next six months for the process?


Q: Not in Kirkuk.


Q: And they didn't talk about outcomes at all, either.


Q: Did they discuss any disagreements? Because in the past, Turkey has expressed concern about the possibility of Kirkuk being under the control of the Kurdistan Regional Government. So did President Bush agree with the Turkish side, or vice versa?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, they really didn't get into a discussion along those lines. It was more a matter of having a process that takes into consideration the views of all of the parties in the area or all the people in there; and just that the U.N. process will work and work with everybody in the area. But they didn't talk about how the solution should be. They didn't get into that level of specifics.

Q: They didn't talk about any type of working together and the (inaudible) between Turkey and the United States and Iraq, the U.N., anything like that?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: They just -- support for the U.N. process was how the discussion ran on Kirkuk.

Q: Okay, thank you.

Q: If you answer this question, I guess we can end the call. Did the Turkish President ask for any additional intelligence, any additional help, anything more from the United States in dealing with the north of Iraq?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, no, that question did come up, and it was just that, as I mentioned, that Turkey did get a very, very strong commitment from the President when the Prime Minister was here in November, and that intelligence sharing is continuing. So there was really no need for -- to ask for anything additional. It's ongoing.

Q: Thank you.

END 3:06 P.M. EST

George W. Bush, Press Background Briefing on the President's Meeting with President Gul of Turkey by a Senior Administration Official Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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