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Psaki: The U.S. endorses “calls for a full investigation”

Department of State Spokesperson Jen Psaki commented on Turkey’s Gezi Park protests and on June 3. Psaki said “Our assessment is that the vast majority of the protesters have been peaceful, law abiding, ordinary citizens exercising their rights. We are concerned about – which you heard the Secretary say this morning – the excessive use of force by police in several instances, and endorse calls for a full investigation. And we condemn attempts by any party to provoke violence.” Read the full excerpt below: 

QUESTION: Can I just start very briefly with a comment – to try and clarify a comment that the Secretary made about Turkey this morning? After expressing his concern and all of that, which I don’t mean to detract from by saying “all of that,” he said that we’ve updated our travel advisories for American citizens in Turkey, reminding them of precautions to take in travel, but also that they should not participate in these kinds of events. At the beginning of what he said, he said that these kinds of events were essential to democracy and the freedom of – I’m just wondering how you square – why should the Secretary of State be telling Americans that they can’t exercise their freedom of speech or expression, even if it is in a different country?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think that was at all what he was trying to convey. I think what he was conveying was protests should be peaceful, that people – that U.S. citizens should exercise caution, as it says in our travel advisory. But he certainly wasn’t —

QUESTION: Okay, exercise caution. But not that they shouldn’t participate in a peace protest, whether it’s about treaties being —

MS. PSAKI: No, I don’t believe that was what he was attempting to convey, Matt.

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QUESTION: So, it has been, I believe, the sixth day of protest. What seems to be happening in Turkey —

MS. PSAKI: Well, the —

QUESTION: — within last six days?

MS. PSAKI: The Secretary spoke to this pretty extensively this morning, so I would point you to that. Our assessment is that the vast majority of the protesters have been peaceful, law abiding, ordinary citizens exercising their rights. We are concerned about – which you heard the Secretary say this morning – the excessive use of force by police in several instances, and endorse calls for a full investigation. And we condemn attempts by any party to provoke violence. This is something we are following very closely. The Ambassador and our other Embassy officials have been engaged with senior officials on the Turkish side, and we’ll continue to monitor it very closely in the days ahead.

QUESTION: So today, Prime Minister Erdogan, before taking his flight out of the country, he said that, quote, the U.S. should look at – they should look at themselves, when he was asked about this criticism or comment coming from Europe and you. So how do you see this response if the Prime Minister says these protests are undermining democracy and you are saying that majority of these protesters are peaceful, law abiding people, and this is based on their democratic rights?

MS. PSAKI: So you’re – I’m sure – I’m sorry, I’m not sure quite what your question is.

QUESTION: My question is the U.S. and Turkey are allies, and how do you think such a fundamental issue, these two countries see completely different angles?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I can speak to our position and our view of this, which is, of course, that we broadly support full freedom of expression and assembly in this case and any other. We’re monitoring it closely. And again, I’d point you to what the Secretary said this morning, which is that we continue to work with Turkey – you’re right, a close NATO ally – on a number of issues, including Syria. It is not up to us to judge here; we’re simply looking at the events happening and encouraging freedom of expression, which is something we do around the world.

QUESTION: Would —

QUESTION: Can I just put a fine point on my earlier question. So the Secretary, in his comment – the advice that you’ve given to Americans actually does not say that Americans should not participate in these kinds of events, right?

MS. PSAKI: Well, they have – the language, the information we did put out, says that Americans should avoid those areas where disturbances have occurred.

QUESTION: And avoid demonstrations and large gatherings, but presumably that’s if one is not interested in being part of the demonstration.

MS. PSAKI: Well, these —

QUESTION: So it’s like people —

MS. PSAKI: The information that’s provided, as you know, Matt, by our embassies is simply to provide guidance to U.S. – American citizens, to U.S. officials who are traveling overseas.

QUESTION: I understand that, but if an American citizen has a particular interest in what people are protesting about and wants to be part of it, the Secretary’s – what the Secretary said seems to be saying you shouldn’t do that, you shouldn’t participate.

MS. PSAKI: Well, the Secretary is certainly not barring anyone or —

QUESTION: Well, no, he can’t, but —

MS. PSAKI: — preventing anyone. He simply is advising on or reiterating our travel guidance on how to keep people safe.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: And that is what the purpose of those announcements are.

QUESTION: At the time, though, you said that the U.S. was going to look into its – for – into – investigate itself, whether there was excessive force used —

MS. PSAKI: Not that we were going to do our own investigation.

QUESTION: You were going to investigate the incident.

MS. PSAKI: We were going to look into more details. Obviously, things have continued over the past couple of days. That’s why I said that we have been concerned about the excessive use of force by police in several instances and endorse calls for a full investigation. That wouldn’t be a U.S. investigation; that would be an investigation in country.

QUESTION: So it’s your feeling that there has been excessive force?

MS. PSAKI: We have seen, yes.

QUESTION: What kind of communication have you had – this building had with the Turkish counterparts?

MS. PSAKI: Well, our Ambassador is on the ground, of course – he actually changed planned travel to leave the country in order to stay there – as well as senior Embassy officials, and they’re in close contact with Turkish authorities on the ground.

QUESTION: So the Secretary did not try to get in contact with the Turkish Foreign Minister or anybody else?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of a recent call. They do speak regularly, of course, about Syria, on a number of issues, but I’m not aware of a recent call over the past couple of days. I’m happy to check on that for you.

QUESTION: Do you see these protests in any way related to wider region and what has been going on with the last two, three years?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I don’t want to ascribe motivations for the people who are protesting freely in the country right now, and I would suggest you speak to them or listen to what they have to say about their reasons.

QUESTION: Would you see Prime Minister Erdogan as – or the government as majoritarian government in Turkey, or authoritarian government, or do you think that democracy, healthy democracy? How do you see that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, this – Turkey has a democratically elected government. It’s not us – for us to support or not support an individual who’s been elected, simply to support the process. That’s exactly what we’re doing here. And again, I would just reiterate that we encourage people, and we encourage to support the full freedom of expression and assembly in this case, which is what they appear to be doing.

QUESTION: And finally, do you have any concerns, or what kind of concerns if you have, regarding the stability of the country?

MS. PSAKI: The stability of the country?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I would point to, again, what Matt and I have talked a little bit about here in terms of what we – the message we’ve conveyed to U.S. citizens over the past couple of days. But beyond that, these protests are continuing. We’re going to monitor it closely, and if we need to update that, we certainly will, but I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves.

QUESTION: Can I just go back to the investigation for a second? You said that – the question was about what kind of – you were talking about the local Turkish authorities investigating it.

MS. PSAKI: Correct. I just was clarifying not a U.S.-involved —

QUESTION: Right. I’m just wondering, do you have full confidence in the Turkish authorities to conduct an investigation like this? Several years ago, you had some serious problems with an investigation the Turkish authorities did into the flotilla incident.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we do —

QUESTION: In fact, you said that you completely rejected it and accepted the Israeli explanation for it. So I’m just wondering if you have confidence in the Turkish authorities in this case to conduct a full, transparent investigation?

MS. PSAKI: We encourage them to conduct a full and transparent investigation. And if it needs to be evaluated, I’m sure we will certainly do that.

QUESTION: Jen.

MS. PSAKI: Do we have any more on Turkey?

QUESTION: Yes, please.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: The demonstrators or the protesters started just to protest against something cultural, which is not to demolish this site, the garden. Do you think the opposition took these protests just to raise the voice against Erdogan’s government and cabinet and its policy, like politically, and assuming that this government is starting to be very Islamic?

MS. PSAKI: I know there have been a lot of comments from people who are participating in the protests across the board in Turkey. I don’t want to ascribe for them what their motivations are. I would point you to them and to their public comments on the reasons why they’re protesting.

QUESTION: Not the reasons of the protest, but the opposition itself in the country – do you think they took this incident, these protests, as a reason to raise their voice against the policy of Erdogan’s cabinet?

MS. PSAKI: Again, I would point you to the opposition, and they can speak to their motivations and their reasons as well.

QUESTION: Jen, the Syrian regime has asked the Syrian people to refrain from going to Turkey for security reasons and asked or called the Prime Minister Erdogan to answer the Turkish people call and resign. How do you view this call?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I would far rather be in Istanbul than Damascus. So we – they make their own recommendations, we make ours, but I’ll leave it at that.

QUESTION: Jen are you taking any security measures to secure the Embassy and U.S. consulates in Turkey?

MS. PSAKI: We’re always monitoring to make sure our Embassy personnel and American citizens are safe. That’s why we issued the information we did this weekend. And as needed, we will, of course, update it, like we do everywhere else.