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State Department encourages Turkish officials to “refrain from unhelpful rhetoric and unhelpful comments”

On June 6, Department of State Spokesperson Jen Psaki said on Turkey: “Our focus is continuing to urge calm in the country. A number of government officials have done that and we have seen and commended their efforts to do that. We remain supportive, of course, of peaceful protest and of freedom of speech that individuals are exerting in the country, and just would encourage any official there to refrain from unhelpful rhetoric and unhelpful comments that will not help calm the actions that are happening in Turkey.” Read the full excerpt below: 

MS. PSAKI: Oh, Turkey? Sure.

QUESTION: Yeah. How do you take the last comments of Prime Minister Erdogan accusing terrorist organization to be behind the anti-government protest? And do you have informations on the seven foreigners who have been detained by the Turkish police, including one American in Ankara?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more information on reports of Americans being detained. Though this was not your question, I know some have asked me this, so let me just take this opportunity – that there were reports – some reports yesterday of four individuals with diplomatic passports. That is incorrect, just to confirm that for everybody.

In terms of – broadly on Turkey, and we’ve talked about this also a bit over the last couple of days, our focus is continuing to urge calm in the country. A number of government officials have done that and we have seen and commended their efforts to do that. We remain supportive, of course, of peaceful protest and of freedom of speech that individuals are exerting in the country, and just would encourage any official there to refrain from unhelpful rhetoric and unhelpful comments that will not help calm the actions that are happening in Turkey.

QUESTION: Follow-up on that?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Prime Minister Erdogan reportedly said that there are terrorists among the protesters, some of which are the same people who attacked U.S. Embassy in Ankara in February. Do you agree with that assessment?

MS. PSAKI: Again, I’ve seen the comments. I don’t have any further – anything further to add to that.

QUESTION: Because the White House had said that those are ordinary people just protesting.

MS. PSAKI: We have – as have we, as have we from here.

QUESTION: As have you.

MS. PSAKI: As have we from here.

QUESTION: Sorry —

MS. PSAKI: But again, we don’t have – there’s no reason for us to confirm or believe that, but we here are watching the events happening. Our focus has been encouraging the citizens who are participating in peaceful protests and using their freedom of speech, their freedom of speech rights, to do just that.

QUESTION: So your official position is that these are ordinary citizens asking for their rights, and not terrorists?

MS. PSAKI: I believe what we said was the vast majority of these individuals are ordinary citizens who are exercising their rights, freedom of speech. That’s what they’ve been doing. There are, of course, events that are happening on the ground. I just don’t have any further level of specificity and I don’t want to analyze every comment when I don’t have more information to provide to all of you.

QUESTION: Just one more. Foreign Minister Davutoglu said in response to Secretary Kerry’s remarks that Turkey is not a second-class democracy. Do you have any comments on that? Would you like to classify Turkey’s democracy as a first-class or a second-class?

MS. PSAKI: We spoke about this quite a bit yesterday, so I would point you to those comments. Let me briefly reiterate that the Secretary and the Foreign Minister have a very positive working relationship. They work closely on a number of issues, including the ongoing crisis in Syria. They did speak the other day, and the Secretary remains concerned, as we all have been, about some reports and incidents that are happening on the ground. That, of course, was expressed, as he’s expressed publicly. But he also encouraged calm, which he’s done publicly as well. So we certainly – but I would refer you, beyond that, to comments I made about this just yesterday.

QUESTION: Prime Minister Erdogan was welcomed very warmly here last month. Does the Administration – does the State Department, still feel as close to Prime Minister Erdogan as it did on May 16th?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t think we’ve ever been in the business of classifying the closeness, but Turkey remains a close NATO ally, remains a close partner on a number of issues, including Syria. We work closely with government officials up and down the ranks in Turkey. We have a very robust presence in the country and will continue to do just that.

QUESTION: Just last one. Do you feel like the U.S. shares the same values of democracy and human rights as the current leadership in Turkey? Do you feel like you have the same values?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I can speak to what our values are, and I would point you to times where we have raised concerns, including in conversations, in meetings, about certain issues around human rights with Turkey. And that remains the case still today.

QUESTION: You said that you would encourage any official not to engage in rhetoric that could inflame the situation, or words to that effect, that’s correct?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Does that mean that you believe that there have been officials who have been making comments that – or engaging in rhetoric that are making the situation worse?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t —

QUESTION: And if so, which officials and which comments would you point to as being the problem?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, a number of the comments that have been raised here today. I can’t speak to whether those have specifically prompted or motivated protesters to take more action. I would send you to them and encourage you to take a trip to Turkey and talk to all of them, of course. But broadly speaking, there are some officials who have encouraged calm and who have made public statements doing just that. There are others, who have been referenced here today, who have not.

QUESTION: Okay. So that would be —

MS. PSAKI: So we hope that they will all be in the same pool —

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: — of encouraging calm.

QUESTION: But – and I just want to put a fine point that the comments that were referenced here in this briefing were from Foreign Minister Davutoglu and from Prime Minister Erdogan.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So those are the ones that you think are unhelpful?

MS. PSAKI: No, well, Foreign Minister Davutoglu, the question regarding that was about a phone call that the Secretary made.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: I think you’re very familiar with the Prime Minister’s comments. I don’t think I have to add anything further to that.

QUESTION: Right. Would you – how would you like to characterize the tenor of that phone call that the Secretary had with his colleague, the Foreign Minister? Was it warm and fuzzy, or was it more terse and businesslike?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t know that any foreign ministers would like their calls described as warm and fuzzy, Matt, so —

QUESTION: Well, I don’t know. It sounds like they are with some, but you don’t want to characterize this call? In – was it businesslike and frank, or was it two old friends slapping each other on the back over the phone?

MS. PSAKI: (Laughter.) Well, I would say none of those descriptions is accurate. We did a readout of the call, as I know you received on the road. But let me just reiterate that for everybody. The call was focused in part on Syria, their ongoing cooperation and coordination on that – our ongoing, I should say, with Turkey, and also about the events happening in Turkey. And the Foreign Minister provided an update on what was happening on the ground and efforts to calm the situation on the ground. And the Secretary reiterated what he has said publicly. So in terms of the tone of the call, I would not read too much into the comments. They have a very good working relationship.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: They speak regularly —

QUESTION: All right.

MS. PSAKI: — and I’m sure they’ll have a warm greeting next time they see each other.

QUESTION: Right. And just one last thing on Turkey, and apologies if you have – this has been asked and answered before, but am I correct in thinking that the U.S. does not take a position on what started this, which is essentially what appears to be a local zoning issue?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think it would be accurate for us to not – take a position or not take a position.

QUESTION: No, you don’t.

MS. PSAKI: We’ve all seen the reports of what —

QUESTION: You don’t have a position on the – what instigated this, beginning, that started this.

MS. PSAKI: I would just say that’s maybe a formal name for it. We’ve all seen the reports that seem pretty consistent that this was over a zoning issue. So I haven’t seen refutes of that, but —

QUESTION: No, no, no, no, no. But you don’t take a position in that – in the dispute, do you?

MS. PSAKI: Oh, no. No.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Sorry. I was misunderstanding your question.