The President's News Conference With Prime Minister Tansu Ciller of Turkey
The President. Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. It's a great honor for me to welcome Prime Minister Ciller to Washington today. She knows our country well from her student days and many subsequent visits. And we had a very good first meeting. We agreed to work together to strengthen our relationship and to develop an enhanced partnership between the United States and Turkey.
For centuries, Turkey has stood at the crossroads of continents, cultures, and historic eras. As the winds of change have shaped both East and West, they have often blown across the Anatolian Plateau. That is why Turkey has always offered the world such a rich and fascinating mixture of peoples, religions, art, and ideas.
Like our own Nation, Turkey is a shining example to the world of the virtues of cultural diversity. And out relationship with Turkey proves that diverse peoples, East and West, Muslim, Christian, and Jew, can work closely together toward shared goals.
Since the time 40 years ago when we stood side by side in Korea, Turkey has served the cause of freedom as NATO's southern anchor and has been a valued ally of the United States. Turkey was a steadfast member of the worldwide coalition that drove Saddam Hussein from Kuwait and instituted international sanctions against Iraq. And for that, the United States remains very grateful. We've all had to pay a price for enforcing the will of the international community, and Turkey in that regard has certainly done more than its share. And we are grateful for its contribution.
We discussed Turkey's role in helping to play a stabilizing role in a host of regional trouble spots, ranging from the former Yugoslavia, through the Caucasus, into Central Asia and, of course, toward the Southeast where Iraq and Iran both continue to pose problems for peace and stability in the world.
We also discussed the need to work for an end to the tragic conflict in Cyprus, which is dividing too many people in too many ways. I am committed to preserving and strengthening our Nation's long tradition of close cooperation with Turkey.
Our security ties must remain strong, our friendship and mutual commitment as allies unswerving. But the focus of our relationship can now shift from a cold-war emphasis on military assistance to an emphasis on shared values and greater political economic cooperation, responsive to the needs of our own peoples and the changing world.
Next month the U.S.-Turkish Joint Economic Commission will convene to work on revitalizing our economic relationship. And I look forward to the results of that effort and to supporting it. The commission will guide a process in which private enterprise will increasingly become the dynamic focus of our enhanced partnership. As an economist, the Prime Minister is ideally suited to lead this endeavor.
Today, Turkey is on the cutting edge of change once again. Its commitment to democracy fulfills the ideals of Ataturk as Turkey enters the 21st century. It's reaching out to the new states of Central Asia, even as it strengthens its longstanding ties to the West.
The Prime Minister represents a new generation of leadership in Turkish politics at a time when the world needs new leadership for a new era. And at a point when our relationship with Turkey is evolving into a new enhanced partnership, it is reassuring to me to know that someone is at the helm in Turkey who understands the needs of the ordinary citizens of that country, their hopes, their aspirations, and is pursuing policies that will give them a chance to fulfill their dreams.
It is, therefore, a great pleasure, once again, to welcome Prime Minister Ciller and to present her to you today.
Madam Prime Minister.
Prime Minister Ciller. Thank you, Mr. President. I appreciate your kind words about my country and about myself.
President Clinton and I had good talks. I believe there was a meeting of minds. And I think it's natural, since we both represent the generation of change, both of us want to do things differently and better, I hope.
Turkey and the United States have a lot in common. However, without losing my sense of dimension, since the United States is a continent and Turkey is a country, I must say that both are dynamic societies and, in some ways, both constitute a mosaic.
My visit takes place at a crucial juncture when our globe is witnessing sweeping and unprecedented changes. The collapse of communism is a victory for democracy and human rights. As representatives of a new generation of leadership, I know President Clinton joins me in welcoming these changes. Yet we both understand that they bring new uncertainties, challenges, responsibilities, and opportunities. Keeping peace is also a challenge. It is in this spirit that we have sent a unit to Somalia.
During our talks, President Clinton and I discussed at length our bilateral relations. I stressed to President Clinton that my government is strongly determined to develop, diversify, and further strengthen our relations to our mutual benefit, in our mutual interest. I am encouraged to see that the American side wishes to reciprocate our political will.
We discussed issues of mutual interest, such as the Middle East, the Gulf, the Russian situation, and the Caucasus. And I must say I am elated about the breakthrough in Arab-Israeli reconciliation. The United States, over a number of years, has shown steadfast leadership. The scene at the White House lawn with President Clinton, Mr. Arafat, and Mr. Rabin gave hope to everyone who have longed for peace in the region.
There is still substantial and difficult work ahead. On the other hand, the tragic situation in Bosnia and the aggression in Azerbaijan continue. Unilateral moves to keep peace, in particular in the Caucasus, are not acceptable.
Turkey, whose geographic position, literally centers her in the ring of fires blazing from the Caucasus and the Balkans, serves as a secular democratic model for her neighboring countries, seeking to develop pluralistic political systems. Likewise, Turkey's secularism acts to deflect the rising tide of fundamentalism. We must help consolidate the democratization process within the framework of this new era.
Turkey is totally committed to this process from Central Asia to the very heart of the European continent. And I am confident, Mr. President, that you will agree that we have the complete support of the United States to assist us in this endeavor. In the long run, strengthening democracy in my region of the world not only promotes peace and stability there but also advances the cause of global peace.
We in Turkey are naturally happy over the fact that cold war has ended. However, we didn't let ourselves be carried away by the euphoria of the times, nor did we minimize the attendant risks. Events have proved us right. The threat perception in and around Europe has changed. But it has changed in different degrees and manners for each of us. I believe the world is passing through a truly transitory phase as recent events in the former Eastern Europe and in the Caucasus have shown. During such times, it is important for the allies to stick together.
The Atlantic Alliance continues to be valid. We attach importance to the transatlantic link and to continued American engagement and leadership in global affairs. After all, in the words of President Wilson, "America was best established not to create wealth but to realize a vision, an ideal, and maintain liberty among men."
Turkey's founding father, Kemal Ataturk, shared that vision. Way back in 1923, he explained it in the following words to an American journalist, "The ideal of the United States is our ideal. Our national pact, promulgated in January 1920, is precisely like your Declaration of Independence." I believe that Turkey and the United States can work together in many ways to the benefit of not only our two countries but to the benefit of all.
I would like to conclude by thanking President Clinton for the hospitality shown to us during this visit and by expressing my satisfaction with our comprehensive and very promising discussions for a more peaceful world.
The President. Helen [Helen Thomas, United Press International].
Q. Mr. President, aren't you weakening the Presidential power by committing Congress to set a cutoff date on a foreign policy mission, and also to cut off funding? I mean, doesn't this lead to future problems?
The President. In this case, I don't think so, because it's clear that the United States mission in Somalia—when it was announced by President Bush, the American people were told it might well be over in January, just a matter of a couple of months. It's gone on for a long time now. What I asked the Congress to do was to express itself without unduly tying my hands. And I had set a deadline of March the 31st.
The resolution adopted by the Senate last night prescribes that date, but also says if there are problems, the President can come back and ask for an extension. So under these circumstances, given the unique and traumatic events of the last several days for America, I don't have a problem with the resolution. I was gratified by the margin by which it passed.
I do caution the American people and the Congress from becoming too isolationist on economic or political fronts. This is a time period, as I have said to you before I think, that is something like the time our country faced at the end of the Second World War, when the country was weary, we had paid an enormous price, and we wanted to get back to the problems at home. Today we paid an enormous price, trillions of dollars, for the victory in the cold war. We know that as the threat of nuclear war recedes and we remain the only country in the world with a major army, our immediate physical security is not so much threatened by other nations, but we have to have a sense of where our national interests are and where our values take us.
And I strongly believe that the mission in Somalia helps to build the notion that nations working together can promote peace and freedom and can reach across religious and racial lines to build the kind of common conditions of humanity that we should be supporting.
Turkey has supported us in that. General Bir is the United Nations Commander. The Prime Minister and I had—perhaps I won't embarrass her by saying this—we had a very candid conversation at lunch in which she said the Turkish people ask the same questions of the Turkish— why the Turkish soldiers are still in Somalia— that the American people ask, and we understand that. So the answer to your question is, the exact wording of the resolution, which was carefully worked out—and I thank Senator Byrd and Senator Dole and Senator Mitchell and Senator Warner, Senator Nunn, and all those who worked on it—does not give me pause about the erosion of executive authority. What would give me pause is sort of a headlong rush into an isolationist position that the United States might live to regret.
Yes, Brit [Brit Hume, ABC News].
Q. Mr. President, may we take it from what you've said and not said over the past week that there will be no consequences for anyone in your military chain of command as a result of the firefight that led ultimately to the loss of 17 American lives in Mogadishu?
The President. I think that when young Americans are in peril, ultimately the President has to bear that responsibility. The President is the Commander in Chief. And even if the decisions are made down the line somewhere, if they are made in good faith within a span of authority granted to a commander, when people are at risk, it sometimes doesn't work out. And I know of no reason why anyone but me should bear the responsibility for that. If I were to find out someone had disobeyed orders or displayed flagrant incompetence, that would perhaps be a different thing. I have no reason to believe that that occurred.
I have said to you many times—I said before the incident in Mogadishu that I thought the United Nations had erred, and the United States had not pushed them hard enough in resuming the political process even while we were attempting to discover who was responsible for killing the Pakistani soldiers. I still believe that.
Anyone from the Turkish press? We'll take a couple of questions from you, too.
Q. Mr. President, is the United States inclined to help Turkey for the losses suffered over the U.N. sanctions in Iraq, and in what way?
The President. Well, the Prime Minister and I discussed that today because—and I guess I should say for the benefit of the American press something the press knows, but the American people should be reminded of—we could not have conducted the successful operation in the Gulf war, and we certainly could not have conducted Operation Provide Comfort to save the Kurds in northern Iraq, had it not been for the indispensable support of Turkey and the support of Turkey not only for Operation Provide Comfort but for the embargo on Iraq. They have paid a significant economic price.
We discussed today some ideas for helping Turkey in that regard, some of which did not involve the direct outlay of tax dollars or the transfer from one government to another. We agreed there would be further discussions between our people today and perhaps tomorrow. And I think if we reach an understanding, I should let the Prime Minister announce it at the appropriate time if we can work it out. But we're going to have a very serious dialog about that in an attempt to recognize the significant price that Turkey has paid for supporting not only the United States but the world's policies in this regard.
Q. Is the U.S. giving enough support to Turkey's fights against international terrorism threatening its territorial integrity? What is the joint policy toward countries supporting PKK's terrorism?
The President. To both of us, right? Well, that question has become far more immediate and important to the United States just in the last 24 hours as an American citizen has been taken hostage by the PKK. I guess I should start by restating our country's policies: We don't bargain or negotiate with terrorists. And we intend to work with Turkey. It's not fair for us to do, as we've done in the past, to urge Turkey to not only be a democratic country but to recognize human rights and then not to help the Government of Turkey deal with terrorism within its own borders. And so we discussed some ways today that we might cooperate further, and I think you will see some more cooperation between our two nations on this front.
Q. Actually, I had a question for the Prime Minister.
The President. Good. The more, the merrier.
Q. As someone who has troops stationed in Somalia, does it concern you at all that the United States is now so committed to withdrawing on March 31st? Does it place you in a difficult position?
Prime Minister Ciller. Well, as Mr. President pointed out, we had a very candid conversation on that. And I pointed out to Mr. President that our people have concern over the issue as well. But if peace is to be maintained and if we will pursue the kind of cooperation we have shown in history, we should be acting together. And in that spirit and in the belief that this will help peace, we sent troops to Somalia. And we intend to have a peaceful solution there, and we hope to support that with that belief.
It is true that my people are concerned over the issue for one more reason. They feel that if our troops are in Somalia, then why aren't they in Azerbaijan as well? Why aren't we acting together in Azerbaijan where there is Armenian invasion? Of course, these are things that we further discussed, and there are ways of cooperation on this as well. And I feel that we should act together on all grounds and try to have a peaceful solution for the world in general.
Q. Are you thinking about withdrawing your troops around the same time as the U.S.?
Prime Minister Ciller. We haven't discussed the details on that during our conversation. As I said, the troops are there for the making of peace. And the sooner we make peace, the sooner we will be out of that. I know that the Congress has a firm date on that, as of yesterday. But it is not something that we have taken up in my country as of yet.
The President. Let me also remind you of one thing about this. The United States went there, as I said, with some people representing that we might even be through within a couple of months, on a humanitarian mission. The United Nations has decided to adopt the humanitarian mission and to try to help keep peace alive to avoid reverting to the conditions that existed before we went there.
That was inevitable and altogether laudable. But there are many other things that have to be done in the world. And the United States will have borne the great mass of that burden. And if we stay through March—we may be able to finish our mission before then, but if we stay all the way, we will have stayed from December of '92 through the end of March of '94, much, much longer than anyone expected us to stay in the beginning, adopting a mission that is somewhat broader than the one we undertook in the beginning. And I think it will make it easier if there needs to be a smaller and less militarily oriented United Nations force continuing to work in a peace process. I think it will be easier, not more difficult, to do.
So this is not calling a halt to the international operation itself or to the end of our involvement in global affairs, but simply to say that to stay a year and 3 months, 4 months, on a mission that was originally touted as perhaps as short as 2 months is quite a long time and enough in terms of the contribution that we have made in this area. So that among other things, we'll be free to fulfill our responsibilities in other parts of the world.
Q. Mr. President, in the last couple of days President Bush, Secretary Cheney, former Secretary Baker have all criticized this administration's handling of the Somalia policy, from a lot of different angles, from naivete to mission creep; that they said we just went there to feed people, and that's what we should have done. I'm curious, what is your reaction to that criticism, and do you draw the lesson from your own experience in Somalia that maybe there really is no such thing as pure humanitarian intervention, that some level of political authority building or nation building is almost by definition necessary in any of these missions?
The President. First of all, I think it would be inappropriate for me to react to what they said. I will say this. It may have been naive for anyone to seriously assert in the beginning that you could go into a situation as politically and militarily charged as that one, give people food, turn around and leave, and expect everything to be hunky dory.
We tried to limit our mission by turning it over to the United Nations. We recognized that in turning it over to the United Nations we would have to stay a little while longer while the United Nations sought to bring in others to replace us, so that the feeding and the calmness of life that does pervade almost all of Somalia could continue. And what happened was, after the Pakistani soldiers were killed and the U.N. passed the resolution saying that someone ought to be held accountable, at the moment the United States was the only country capable of serving the police function.
You can say, "Well, we should have simply refused to do that and said that was someone else's problem." Then the question would have become, "Well, what kind of a friend is the United States?" The Pakistanis were there shoulder to shoulder with us; they were ready to put themselves in harm's way, just as we were. Should we walk away just because it was them that got killed instead of us? This was not an easy question.
The error that was made, for which I think all of the parties must take responsibility, including the United States, was that when the police function was undertaken, the U.N. mission lowered the political dialog so that the people that were involved over there in Mogadishu thought, "This is not police officers," to use an American analogy, "this is not police officers arresting suspects in a crime. This is a military operation designed to take a group out of a dialog about the political future of Somalia." We never intended that.
And that's where the U.N. mission went awry. And that's where if there was a mission creep, it happened there, and we did not contain it quickly enough. I thought I had done so at my speech to the United Nations. I did my best there. So I think that, if we're going to analyze the error, it seems to me that was where the error occurred.
And I think we learned a very valuable lesson there. The United States should avoid whenever possible being the police officer because it raises all these superpower military, all these other questions—and in any case, we can't go into any sort of situation like this ever and allow the political dialog to collapse, because in the end, all these folks, not just in Somalia but everywhere else in the world, ultimately have to resolve their own problems and take responsibility for their own destiny. So that's the way I would characterize what has happened and what I think we have learned.
And in fairness, I think we ought to give another question or two to the Turkish journalists who are here.
Q. To which extent, Mr. President—to both of you—did you discuss the Cyprus issue? To which extent?
The President. Yes, we discussed the Cyprus issue, and I would like to compliment the Prime Minister. I was encouraged. As I think you probably know, this has been an important issue to me for some time. The Prime Minister expressed her strong support for having the elections in northern Cyprus by the end of November and for resuming a dialog on confidencebuilding measures and her hope that she would have a constructive relationship with the new Government in Greece. And I think for a Turkish Prime Minister, that's about all I could ask right now. I was very impressed with what she said, and I look forward to our common efforts to try to resolve this in the near future.
Perhaps she would like to say something about it.
Prime Minister Ciller. Would you want me to comment on that further?
Q. Yes, please.
Prime Minister Ciller. Well, as I am having the 50th government and as a new Prime Minister, I feel that a solution in Cyprus should be found and as soon as possible. We feel that there are two communities there that need to come together. Maybe a new methodology can be searched for as well. But the fact remains that a solution should be found there at a time when other crises are emerging elsewhere in the part of the geography.
I was very happy to find out about what happened between Israel and Palestine. And I have to congratulate the leadership that was shown by the President and the United States throughout the history for that. But we are dedicated to finding a solution in Cyprus; very much so.
The only thing that might be of a retardance in that is using of this variable in domestic politics. I think we should not let that happen. We should not let that happen in Cyrus. We should not let that happen in Turkey. We should not let that happen in Greece, as well.
Q. Mr. President, on the way flying here, our Prime Minister said she has some concerns about Russian advances in the Caucasus, especially in Georgia and Azerbaijan, and that this could lead to a trend of new Russian expansionism. Do you share this concern?
The President. Well, I think Russia is like most other large countries with several million people, there are different currents and different views there. But let me say this: I believe that President Yeltsin does not want an imperialist Russia. I think President Yeltsin wants a Russia that can rebuild itself from within, economically.
As you know, in the conflict in Georgia over the last year there was all sorts of ambivalence and mixed signals from the Russian army stationed there, notwithstanding the position of President Yeltsin at times when the span of control seemed in question.
In terms of Azerbaijan, I think the Prime Minister has made a very important point, that the Russians should, of course, be involved in the resolution of that crisis, but that for the people to feel good about it within the country and Nagorno-Karabakh and beyond, they can't do it alone. Someone else should be involved also in some form or fashion. That's why the United States has strongly supported the socalled Minsk process, in the hope that we won't have an exclusive solution by anyone but that there can be a shared sense of responsibility there.
Thank you very much. Thank you.
Prime Minister Ciller. Thank you. And I have to thank Mr. President one more time for wearing the Turkish manufactured tie. Good sign of cooperation. [Laughter]
The President. That's right. This is my gift from the Prime Minister today, so I thought I should wear it.
Prime Minister Ciller. My people will be proud. Thank you very much again.
The President. Thank you very much.
NOTE: The President's 29th news conference began at 1:48 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to the PKK, the Kurdish Communist Party.
William J. Clinton, The President's News Conference With Prime Minister Tansu Ciller of Turkey Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/218612