Department of State Spokesperson Jen Psaki confirmed that Secretary of State John Kerry spoke with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on June 15. Although the call was focued on Syria, the ongoing protests in Turkey were also discussed. Psaki said “we remain focused on calling on all parties to ease tensions and to resolve the situation through dialogue, taking into account views from across the political spectrum. We also continue to urge all sides to exercise restraint and avoid violence.” Read below the full excerpt:
QUESTION: Has the Secretary been in touch with Davutoglu or anyone else? Can you just sort of update us on what the Department’s been saying, who they’ve been talking to about —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: — Gezi Park? And more specifically, how concerned are you, is the Secretary, about Turkey’s ability to be helpful in Syria given their own internal problems at the moment?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, let me say that the Secretary spoke with Foreign Minister Davutoglu on Saturday. As you all know, they speak regularly. Often the thrust of their conversations is about Syria and their close cooperation, our close coordination on that issue. That was the same with this call as well.
In terms of where we are, we remain focused on calling on all parties to ease tensions and to resolve the situation through dialogue, taking into account views from across the political spectrum. We also continue to urge all sides to exercise restraint and avoid violence. On the ground, of course, our Ambassador and high-level Embassy officials are in very regular contact with Turkish officials about this issue and our concerns, but also how we can move forward.
In terms of how it will impact, the Secretary speaks with Foreign Minister Davutoglu regularly, as you know, because I think there’s at least one or more calls a week I end up mentioning in here. And that’s an issue that they are a close partner on, they’re a close ally on. The Secretary and the Foreign Minister have actually also become close friends. And we remain confident that they can continue to work with us on that issue, and they have indicated that they have every desire to do that.
QUESTION: Jen, on Turkey —
QUESTION: The Deputy Prime Minister today said that they might bring in the army to bring calm back. Are you aware of that?
MS. PSAKI: I have not seen those reports, but I should – I would be remiss if I didn’t add that of course, we remain concerned about any reports of activity including police brutality, including violence. There were some reports over the weekend about the prosecution of medical professionals who were treating injured people. All of these are great – all of these reports are greatly concerning and we’re very focused on monitoring closely.
QUESTION: Do you – you said that the conversation was largely about Syria, but did the protest come up and did he – did the Secretary speak about your calls for restraint?
MS. PSAKI: Well, he’s spoken about them publicly and privately in the past. I’d have to look closer at the content of the call, but it was really focused on Syria, and specifically calling him to give him an overview of the announcement we made last week.
QUESTION: Okay. But I – well, I am curious because it would seem that immediately or in the hours after this phone call happened, the Turks launched another huge crackdown and arrested a couple hundred other people with more violence. So if it did come up, it would seem that it didn’t really have any impact on how the government is responding to this.
MS. PSAKI: Well, there are a number of officials, including the Foreign Minister, who have called for calm in this case, which we’ve continued to encourage. He has provided in the past his overview or his view of what’s going on on the ground. The Secretary has shared his opinion in response. But of course, we’ve seen the reports this weekend. I referenced some of the reports of medical professionals being arrested. I talked a little bit last week about media professionals being detained. All of this is very concerning. And we, of course, deplore the use of excessive force in any of these cases.
QUESTION: How this perception of U.S. Administration on Turkey has been because of this – all this mass demonstration?
MS. PSAKI: How has our perception of —
QUESTION: Yes, about – in terms of both government and the society.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t know if I can speak to all of society. I can say that we, of course, as we’ve said many times here over the past couple of weeks, have been concerned about the reports of excessive force. It’s unfortunate that in the past couple of days, or over the past couple of weeks, we’ve seen reports, as I mentioned, of medical professionals, of media officials being detained, and that’s something that we’re greatly concerned about.
But there are – Turkey is a NATO ally. We work with them on a number of issues. We’re in close contact at the highest levels, as I mentioned the call from this weekend. And we’re hopeful that we can – this can be resolved with calm and by an encouragement of restraint in Turkey.
QUESTION: I want to give a statistic about the incident, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: During – over the last 18 days since the clashes has began in Turkey, you made 17 different statements on the incident: three written statement from White House, NSS spokesperson; three major remarks, one, I mean, Vice President Biden, the other one by the Secretary Kerry; and 12 Q&As in the daily briefs in White House and State.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think you’re one of the people who’s asked me questions that I’ve answered.
QUESTION: Are you disappointed with the reaction of Turkish Government?
MS. PSAKI: Of the government? I’m not going to speak to that. Look, we are focused on calling for calm, on calling for restraint. We remain a close ally of Turkey, of course. I’ve outlined and spoken in a number of those occasions, when you and others have asked, about concerns we have had. And we haven’t held back in that regard in any way.
QUESTION: Are you a close partner —
QUESTION: One more, please. And also, these statements are actually – are – I mean, the Turkish (inaudible) are troubled with these statements, and they are accusing, especially European Union and other foreigners, to interfering the domestic policy. What are the limits of a U.S. Ambassador, for example, who is working abroad, in terms of this interference within the domestic policy of other country?
MS. PSAKI: What are the limits?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the Ambassador is calling for the same things publicly and privately that we and the Vice President and the Secretary and others up and down the government have been calling for. Now, being on the ground is something entirely different. Working closely with counterparts he’s known for a number of years is certainly different. But one individual can’t change what’s happening on the ground. He can just continue to add to the chorus of people who are calling for restraint and calling for calm in handling this moving forward.
QUESTION: His argument was that calling for – that his suggestion was that Turks feel that calling for restraint is an interference in their domestic affairs. Do you see it that way or not?
MS. PSAKI: We do not. We would reject – and I’ve seen some of these reports – the accusations that U.S. groups or individuals are responsible for the protests or responsible for elevating them in Turkey in any way. We are consistent about calling for freedom of speech and freedom of expression and acceptance of that, as well as expressing concern when there is – there are reports of excessive force used, and the need to look into that and to encourage common restraint in anywhere – anywhere, whether it’s Turkey or whether it’s another country.
So this is an issue, you’re right, that has been ongoing. But we remain in close contact with Turkey at several levels. We remain focused on working on issues with them that we can, including Syria. But again, we would like to see an ease of tensions and a resolution of what’s happening on the ground.
QUESTION: Can I ask you —
QUESTION: The Secretary has talked about Turkey being an admirable example of both a democracy and a Muslim-majority nation, kind of that that’s the future he would like to see for other nations. Does he believe that Turkey is acting in an exemplary fashion?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve seen – he doesn’t group everybody into one grouping here. We’ve seen a number of officials come out and call for calm and call for restraint. He’s still hopeful that this can be resolved through a dialogue, which the Prime Minister and others have called for and have met with people, and we’ll see what happens moving forward. Of course, we have been concerned; the Secretary’s been concerned about reports on the ground. But that doesn’t change the fact that they are a close ally. We work closely with them, and we will continue to moving forward.
QUESTION: So based on your last couple of answers, I’m going to – I presume, and please tell me if I am presuming correctly or incorrectly, that you do not share the Prime Minister’s view that this is the result of some outside conspiracy of terrorists and people trying to overthrow the government. And I would also – tell me if that’s right – and I would also presume that you would not share his view that international news organizations are giving his country a bad rap or ruining the country’s image abroad. Would you agree with that, or do you think the government itself is doing a pretty good job of giving itself a bad image abroad?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, let me specifically take the second one; I’ll speak to all of it. But I’ve said in here a couple times, but let me just reiterate: We’re very troubled by any pressure being placed on journalists or media organizations, public statements that are made criticizing the freedom of the press. That’s something that – and as well as journalists being detained. We’ve seen reports of that as well in Turkey.
We believe and still believe – and we said this, I think, on the first day – that the vast majority of people here are peacefully protesting, expressing their rights to freedom of speech. We are not on the ground. There will be investigations into what happened on the ground. So we don’t know all of the entities of it, but that’s how it started, and we still feel the vast majority of people are doing just that.
QUESTION: Okay. And you’re confident that the Turkish authorities have the political will to do a thorough and complete investigation? And I ask this fully cognizant of the fact that the – their – Turks’ investigation into the flotilla, Gaza flotilla incident, was not met with joy and rapture from this building or anywhere else in Washington.
MS. PSAKI: We do.
QUESTION: You do?
MS. PSAKI: And we’ll have them look into it. And if we need to speak to anything, I’m sure we will.
Still on Turkey?
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: A follow-up. A pro-government newspaper suggested that this whole thing was planned in American Enterprise Institute with the help of Jewish lobby and the Armenians, of course. Would you care to comment on that? Do you believe that this is possible at all?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think I’ve already commented on it, maybe not that specific. I did see the report, and we absolutely reject the accusations that U.S. groups or individuals are responsible for or have elevated – or escalated, I should actually say, the protests in Turkey.
QUESTION: You keep urging calm to both sides. Is your official position – do you think that both sides are using equal amount of violence?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I’ve said to all sides. I think I’ve said we urge calm moving forward. There’s clearly cases where – when journalists are detained or doctors are detained or there are reports of brutality. That’s not coming from the side of the people who are peacefully protesting. We have seen some incidents or some reports of violence or escalation from all sides. So certainly we would encourage that from all sides, but I’m not equating them.