Press Briefing by Ambassador Marc Grossman, United States Ambassador to Turkey; Alexander Vershbow, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director, European Affairs, NSC; and Richard Holbrooke, Assistant Secretary of State, European and Canadian Affairs
The Briefing Room
11:42 A.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Good morning everybody. Before we get to the briefing on the President's meeting with Prime Minister Ciller, let me just report to you that the President is obviously very troubled by the news reports coming from Oklahoma City. He was informed of those news reports just prior to his meeting with Prime Minister Ciller. He asked Leon Panetta to be in contact with Attorney General Reno to see if there's any additional assistance that needed to be provided to local officials in Oklahoma City. The Attorney General reported to the Chief of Staff that she had already dispatched an FBI team. We understand that other federal agencies, including FEMA, are also in a position to respond. And the Chief of Staff will be convening a meeting just so we draw together how the administration is responding later on. I'll have to more to report on that later on in the day.
Let me go to the readout now on the meeting with Prime Minister Ciller. And I've got three extremely distinguished officials --
Q: Mike, can you take one question on the Oklahoma City?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll take one question. I won't have any additional --
Q: Was the Attorney General able to give Mr. Panetta any insight into what was behind the explosion? Was it, in fact, a bomb? Is that what the White House has been told?
MR. MCCURRY: We're not -- she didn't share an assessment. She indicated that she had a response, an appropriate response, underway and FBI officials were on their way.
Let me introduce the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs, Richard Holbrooke, who's just attended the meeting between the Prime Minister and the President. I think you all know also Alexander Vershbow, who's Senior Director for European Affairs at the National Security Council. And it is a great pleasure to introduce at the White House Briefing Room for the very first time, the United States Ambassador to Turkey, the Honorable Marc Grossman. It's a pleasure to welcome you, Your Excellency. For those who don't know Marc, he used to be the Executive Secretary at the U.S. State Department. So we are acquainted, as they say.
But I'm also acquainted with Mr. Holbrooke. Mr. Holbrooke, the podium is yours.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HOLBROOKE: This was a private visit by the Prime Minister. She is on her way to Houston for -- to be the guest of honor at the International Fair. We only have a few minutes because we have to get over to the Pentagon where Secretary Perry is giving a lunch in her honor.
The visit was very useful in reinforcing and strengthening the ties between the United States and Turkey at a critical time. No country in Europe is surrounded by more problems. Just a list of its border neighbors -- Iran, Iraq, Syria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Ukraine through a water border, Greece, Romania, Bulgaria -- suggests the enormity of the problems Turkey is facing.
We discussed today the military activity in northern Iraq. The Prime Minister repeated her statements that the operation would be limited in scope and duration. Those are statements to which we attach high importance. No specific timetable was discussed.
We discussed Armenia. She told us that she was in the process of announcing -- I think it actually has been announced but it hasn't gotten much attention yet -- a very important decision to permit overflights of Armenia. Ambassador Grossman will answer any questions about that in more detail. We consider that extremely important and positive development as it addresses not only a specific commercial issue and improvement of relations between two nations, but it also addresses in a contemporary setting one of the longest standing legacies of tragedy in this century in Europe.
The President emphasized the importance he attaches to the fact that the European parliament will consider and, we hope, approve the Customs Union between Turkey and the European Union that will come to a vote in late September, early October.
The Prime Minister emphasized that the democratization package she has put forward to the Turkish parliament will go forward. She hopes it will be passed, all or part of it. We all agreed that passage of all or part of that is an important precursor to this vote. We believe that Turkey is the front-line state in Europe in the sense that the direction it takes for its future will affect the rest of Europe.
We also discussed a number of other issues, including the oil pipeline, regional affairs. We touched on issues related to Bosnia, and we had a substantial discussion on relations with Greece, in particular, in regard to Cypress.
As you know, the President has appointed Richard Beattie as his special emissary on Cypress. Prime Minister Ciller met with him in New York and has met with him previously in Ankara. Since we are in the middle of a two-round election in northern Cypress right now, it's inappropriate for us to go into the details. But the President stressed his personal commitment and the commitment of this administration to be active in the search for a bicommunal federation in Cypress in the next few years. I can't give you a timetable, but we believe it's important that the federation be worked out and we will work towards that end.
I'll take your questions.
Q: Was there any question, sir, on the military incursion into northern Iraq? How much did that come up?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HOLBROOKE: As I said at the outset, the Prime Minister reiterated her comments, which I think she has made also to you, that the operation would be limited in scope and duration, a matter of weeks, as she has said publicly. The President repeated his view that this is of importance and we attach high importance to it. No specific timetable was discussed. And I think I should add that the reason we don't discuss specific timetables is for reasons of military security. She said very bluntly, and it seems reasonable to us, that you don't announce in public the exact details of an ongoing military operation, which the Turkish government believes is having considerable success.
One other point. Under Secretary Summers and Laura Tyson, the head of the National Economic Council, also attended the meeting. They will be having a private meeting with the Prime Minister this afternoon to continue the discussions about Turkey's economic situation, which is extremely critical.
Q: Was there any discussion about cooperation for the post-incursion -- (inaudible) --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HOLBROOKE: We talked about Operation Provide Comfort, too, and the importance of renewing it, and those talks will be continuing at the Pentagon.
One other economic point that Ambassador Grossman reminded me of is the investment treaty -- the tax treaty between Turkey and the United States. That treaty is very close to being completed. There are a few technical issues left but Under Secretary Summers and the Turkish side both believe those will be ironed out very soon.
Q: In which direction did the discussion of the GreekTurkish issues including the NATO -- (inaudible)? And also would you please clarify to us, Mr. Holbrooke, if the Cypress issue will be connected with the EU issue?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HOLBROOKE: I would rather not go into the details in Cypress. I believe that there is such a thing as confidential diplomacy, but I want to stress the fact that the President attaches high importance to it.
As for the connection to the EU, let us draw your attention again to the extremely important second decision made on March 6th by the EU, the same day that they approved at the commission level, but not yet the European Parliament, the Customs Union with Turkey. And that was that accession talks for EU membership for Cyprus would begin six months after the end of the Intergovernmental Conference, which means roughly, the second half of 1997.
From the United States' point of view, those talks are for accession for both communities in a federation which they are to work out, and which we will encourage through diplomacy.
Q: Mr. Secretary, will the trip build -- Mrs. Ciller -- did Mrs. Ciller introduce any new practical ideas regarding the future security arrangements in Northern Iraq, and can Provide Comfort operation be instrumental in the --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HOLBROOKE: We did not get to that level of specificity, but I think we will continue those discussions momentarily at the Pentagon.
On the Aegean issue, I'd like Ambassador Grossman to comment.
It did not come up -- we did not have time to discuss it.
Q: It did not come up --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HOLBROOKE: No, it did not come up.
Q: Not at all? What about NATO affairs?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HOLBROOKE: What about what?
Q: NATO affairs between Greece and Turkey.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HOLBROOKE: We did not discuss NATO today because when Deputy Secretary Talbott and I were with Ambassador Grossman and Under Secretary Lodal, of the Defense Department, in Ankara last week. We had an extended discussion of our NATO expansion policy. Strobe reported on his trip to Moscow to the Turkish government. They were completely supportive, so we didn't see a need to review it again today.
Q: Mr. Holbrooke, now that the operation in Iraq has lasted nearly a month and involved 35,000 troops, does the United States still regard it as one that's been limited in scope and duration? And should it be -- should it last longer, should it become an obstacle to Turkey's integration into the EU?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HOLBROOKE: As we've said repeatedly, the Turkish government says it will be limited in scope and duration. Ten percent of the troops have already withdrawn. We attach high importance to that.
But let me say one other thing. When this operation began, the Secretary of State asked for an opinion from the legal division of the State Department as to the legality of the operation under international law. It may seem like a formality in this room, but it is not. The operation does not violate international law. It is in self-defense of Turkey. They -- the PKK is a terrorist organization, operating, of course, in international border. And we understand that. We also attach high importance to their statements about limited scope and duration, and we have repeatedly stressed our view that -- our deep concern about the danger of what the military euphemistically call "collateral damage" and which you all understand to mean something much less attractive than that. And that position stands.
And I would draw your attention to the fact that although journalists have been in the area and covered it, and although Ambassador Grossman has sent his representatives in the area and were watching it carefully, we have not had significant reports in this area. It is an issue of concern, there's no question about it.
Q: Mr. Secretary, there have been some articles in the Turkish and the Greek press about the possibility of a Camp Davidkind of approach to the Cyprus issue. Is that in the cards in any way?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HOLBROOKE: It is not.
Q: Was the Kurdish issue taken up during the meeting, because there was a recent press conference by the White House in which it was emphasized the political solution should be -- to deal with the Kurdish issue. Did the President raise this position again before the Turkish Prime Minister?
AMBASSADOR GROSSMAN: I think two things are important. One is that the President and the Prime Minister both talked about the importance of democracy. And I think it -- the Prime Minister talked about her commitment to democratization, her desire to return to Turkey and focus on democratization and the use of democratization as one of the answers to the question in southeastern Turkey. I think our position remains that there is no solely military solution to that question, and that democracy is one of the ways to go forward. And they had a very clear conversation about that.
Q: Mr. Ambassador, would you talk a little bit about the Armenia --
AMBASSADOR GROSSMAN: The air corridor. Yes.
Q: Yes, please. Is the word overflight accurate?
AMBASSADOR GROSSMAN: What happened was, sometime ago, the Turkish government, for reasons of its own, stopped the ability of all kinds of commercial aircraft to go across Turkey to get to Armenia. And it required people to take all kinds of different and circuitous routes.
They have now decided to reopen that air corridor. And the technicality is that they make that decision, they tell the Armenians about it, the Armenians respond, and then something called a NOTAM, which is a notice to airmen and mariners, gets issued, and people are then able to fly this corridor directly into Armenia. And we think it's terrific, and we --
Q: Just to follow up for a second, sir. There is legislation in Congress dealing with this issue, and what they would desire was the opening of overland routes.
AMBASSADOR GROSSMAN: Absolutely. The Humanitarian Aid Corridors Bill talks about moving assistance to Armenia. Now, the administration position on that is clear. The administration is opposed to that legislation. We're not saying that this is the answer to all questions. We're just saying that she told the President today that they were opening the air corridor to Armenia, and that's a positive thing.
Q: Mr. Secretary, do you share the view by Prime Minister Ciller that the Cyprus issue will be solved only when Turkey becomes a full member of the European Union?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HOLBROOKE: That is not the view she expressed. And let me be very clear on this. From our point of view, Turkey is -- it's a member of NATO, as is Greece, and Turkey is a member of Europe in the larger sense, even if they're not a member of the EU. We do not see a strict sequencing of how these things are worked out. The harmonization of economies that is required by the EU to let countries in is highly complicated. We do not see a rigid sequencing. The EU accession talks have been scheduled to begin six months after the end of the IGC -- the Intergovernmental Conference -- and that is the position. So we don't see a tight linkage.
MR. VERSHBOW: If I could just add a comment, you referred to the photo op where the Prime Minister, I think, said something to the effect that the Cyprus problem will not really be solved. I think she was saying that in terms of the rapprochement between the two communities that have been divided now for 20 years will be enhanced by full integration of all the players in the European Union, which is a goal that we support. But she didn't say that a political solution on a bi-zonal, bicommunal federation must await integration of Turkey or Cyprus in the EU. So I think that's the way to interpret that comment.
END11:55 A.M. EDT
William J. Clinton, Press Briefing by Ambassador Marc Grossman, United States Ambassador to Turkey; Alexander Vershbow, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director, European Affairs, NSC; and Richard Holbrooke, Assistant Secretary of State, European and Canadian Affairs Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/270213