Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and Secretary John Kerry give remarks at joint press conference

Secretary John Kerry meets with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in Ankara
Secretary John Kerry meets with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in Ankara

Secretary John Kerry met with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on March 1, 2013. Below is the transcript from the press conference following their meeting. 

FOREIGN MINISTER DAVUTOGLU: (Via interpreter.) Distinguished members of the press, his Excellency U.S. Secretary of State, my dear friend, Mr. John Kerry, it’s a pleasure to have you in our beautiful country and in our capital city. And it’s a privilege for us to be able to host you or accommodate you in this very historical landmark.

We have been in close collaboration with Mr. Kerry for a really long time because of his duty in the Senate. That’s why his assuming the duty of the Secretary of State of the United States of America brings another momentum to the relations, which are already very strong between us. I would like to wish him the best of luck and success in his future endeavors. His first visit to Turkey is a matter of pride and joy for us. I’d like to underline that fact.

And right before the bilateral talks, we’ve had the chance to go to the U.S. Embassy in Ankara to extend his condolences. And I would like to extend my condolences to the United States of America and the nation for that – for the terrorist attack that happened quite recently. And I would like to wish my condolences to the family of Mustafa Akarsu, who had lost his life in the attack. And I would like to wish that Didem Tuncay, the journalist who got injured as a result of the attack, will get better soon.

We were in Rome quite recently with Mr. Kerry, and we’ve had the

chance to discuss over some folders that we had in our possessions, and we’ve attended certain dinners where we had the chance to discuss issues of mutual interest. And today, we’ve had the chance to exchange information about Syria. These were all very multilateral talks, but this time we’ve had the chance to dwell upon these issues in a very meticulous detail all by ourselves.

The mutual relations are at a perfect level. The President and the Prime Minister of Turkey, they both enjoy very close relations with President Obama. In terms of our mutual relations, when President Obama took over the office for the first time in the year 2009, can be explained best in his words – we have a strategic partnership that we enjoy at the utmost extent possible. Mr. Obama happens to be one of the leaders that has the closest contacts with His Excellency the Prime Minister of Turkey on a global scale. Mutually, we understand each other almost perfectly. We have institutionalized relations. We are allies, but especially after the Cold War era, we have been capable of strengthening the relations not only diplomatically but operationally.

In terms of daily practices, many challenges await us in many regions from Balkans to the Asia, from Middle East to Africa. There are many challenges ahead. That’s why within this framework, in our gathering today, we’ve had the chance to focus on many issues of mutual concern.

First and foremost, the United States of America, along with the European Union member states, they are foraging an agreement in terms of transatlantic free trade agreements. We have had the chance to speak about these issues in Rome, and Turkey has been enjoying customs union relations with the European Union and we are still continuing (inaudible) European Union. That’s why this transatlantic commercial and investment agreement and partnership is of crucial significance for Turkey. We believe that Turkey needs to play a significant role in that structure. And it was really important for him to mention the identical expectations.

We focused on regional issues, such as Syria and the recent developments within the framework of Arab Spring in Egypt, in Tunisia, in Morocco. The election periods and our joint perspective in that regard, the Afghanistan withdrawal process and the aftermath, and all of the issues surrounding NATO are some of the hot topics in our agendas where we’ve enjoyed mutual understanding. We are looking towards these issues from a common perspective. Our relations are of crucial importance for the future of both countries, not only for the two countries, but also, in terms of global and regional peace, we all need strengthening relations. And Turkey, along with the United States of America, approaching these issues from the same perspective, will contribute significantly to the establishing of global peace and stability.

And in terms of the issues that Mr. Kerry will be discussing in the latter phases of his visit to Middle East in a couple of days, I believe positive results will be cultivated, and I wish him the best of luck and success. All of the actors hereby depend on a sustainable peace between Israel and Palestine, recognizing the borders of 1967. The emerging democracies will be provided with stability and prosperity as soon as possible, and this is for the interest not only for Turkey, but also for the United States of America. The balance in the Caucasia and all the developments within Europe and Balkans will be discussed at every length possible in the future gatherings.

So as you can see, we have been touching upon significant issues from a very wide horizon. His Excellency Mr. Prime Minister of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan will be accommodating Mr. John Kerry, will be hosting John Kerry in a very short time. So I would like to wish him luck again. I would like to welcome him once again. Turkey’s very familiar with him. He’s a well-known name. This is a short visit, but I hope and pray that in the future visits he will have the chance to stay longer and diversify our already strong relations. And I would like to wish him the best of the luck in his future endeavors as the Secretary of State.

Welcome, John Kerry.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, thank you very much, Minister Davutoglu. I appreciate the welcome. It is a short visit, but we’re going to pack a lot into it, and we already have. And I appreciate enormously your generous reception here. It’s a pleasure for me to be back in Turkey today.

And right before our meeting, I attended a memorial service for Mustafa Akarsu, the very brave security guard who gave his life in order to save the lives of many other people at our Embassy in the attack that took place last month. I want to thank the Minister and the people of Turkey for their condolences for that loss. It was a very moving ceremony and we were pleased to have his family there. And his wife was awarded a very well-known recognition for those who do lose their lives, and we were proud to be able to make that award to this courageous Turk.

Mustafa’s tragic death reminds all of us of the common bond that we share, no matter where we come from. And frankly, it underscores the urgent need to promote a spirit of tolerance, and that includes all of the public statements made by all leaders. It also underscores the important effort to expand freedom and democracy as we vigilantly strengthen security in this region and around the world. That’s one of our great challenges.

The Foreign Minister and I just had a very productive, very candid, direct conversation about the issues between us and also about the challenges here and the challenges at home in my country and the things that need to bring us together to work together more effectively. The United States stands strongly with Turkey, our NATO ally, in the fight against terrorism in all of its forms – al-Qaida, the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party Front, the PKK, and many others. And I want to thank the Minister and your country for your help in bringing the perpetrators of last month’s terrible attack to justice, and for being such a strong partner in fighting terrorism worldwide. Ours is a very difficult task and it’s going to require the maximum amount of cooperation, and it’s going to require an international effort.

We also continued the discussion that we had yesterday in Rome, an important discussion about how the international community can come together in support of the Syrian people in an effort to try to create a political transition and provide those people with the safety, security, and freedom that they deserve. Minister Davutoglu and I, along with our partners, believe that there is no legitimacy in a regime that commits atrocities against its own people, and we need to continue to work to make certain that the Assad regime makes a different set of choices. I want to thank Turkey for its clear leadership and its determination to help us end this bloodshed. And I’m grateful for the humanitarian support that your country has provided, including, I might add, serving as a refuge for hundreds of thousands of Syrians.

The Foreign Minister and I also talked about ways in which we can grow our significant economic partnership. He mentioned a minute ago the Transatlantic Investment Trade Partnership. This is a huge opportunity for all of Europe, for all of us, to be able to grow our ability to create more jobs at home and create greater strength in our relationship, and also even as we do so to break down the barriers between us. And I know the Foreign Minister looks forward to working with me, and we actually arrived at an understanding of a couple of ways in which we intend to continue to do that.

Through a number of bilateral dialogues, our governments are taking concrete steps in order to increase trade and investment. And thanks to these efforts, we have now established a $20 billion trading relationship, and we are eager to be able to grow it further. Needless to say, we have to, all of us, keep pushing the limits on finding creative ways to be able to bring prosperity to our populations.

We also discussed the importance of strengthening the protection of fundamental rights, the freedom of expression, freedom of the media. And history has proven decisively that nations that work constantly to safeguard these rights, democracies, people who respect basic freedoms are far more successful, far more stable, and far more prosperous. And that includes, I think, two models: Each of us growing and changing in our own ways, two models in both the United States and Turkey.

Our shared challenges are obviously many, but our two countries, I think, have grown to have an increasingly strong understanding for how we can strengthen this relationship. And we are going to tackle some very tough issues together in the days ahead, and I think the Foreign Minister and I set out a strong understanding of exactly what that agenda is, and strengthened our personal resolve to be able to do that and work together. I have known the Minister, as he said, for a long time, and we’ve worked together at various events. We’ve met in Washington, we’ve met here, we’ve met elsewhere in the world. I’m confident that we can work our way through moments of difficulty in order to grow the relationship and produce results.

Thank you, Mr. Minister.

FOREIGN MINISTER DAVUTOGLU: Thank you. Thank you, John.

MODERATOR: (Via interpreter.) Due to time constraints, we will only have room for two questions.

MS. NULAND: Let’s start with Matt Lee from AP, please.

QUESTION: Good afternoon, Mr. Foreign Minister. Over the past several years, but more increasingly in recent months, very senior Turkish officials, including yourself, have made what have been seen as increasingly hostile remarks about the State of Israel, about Zionism, and about the people of Israel. This includes not just the comments made by the Prime Minister this week, but also calling Israel a terrorist state and saying – questioning whether its existence is actually necessary.

So I’m wondering, what does Turkey hope to achieve by making these comments? Are they the kinds of comments that befit a nation that says that it is committed to peace?

And then, Mr. Secretary, in addition to wondering what you told the Foreign Minister and will tell the Prime Minister tonight about the Prime Minister’s comments, I’m wondering if you can listen closely to the Foreign Minister’s response to my question and tell me, tell all of us, what you think of that – of his response.

And then begging your indulgence, because we only have one question —


QUESTION: — I’m wondering if you can say something about the effect the sequester will have on your employees and perhaps talk a little bit about what you expect to achieve in Egypt tomorrow. Thank you very much.

SECRETARY KERRY: Minister? (Laughter.) I think the question went to you first.


(Via interpreter.) The question you addressed to me will have a very clear answer, and I would like to shed a light on our path. You’ve used the word hostile remarks. Let me once again accentuate this one fact in the presence of the international community and the Turkish community – we have never been hostile against a nation, against a state, against an individual. However, if we need to speak about a very hostile practice, I would refer you to the killing of nine civilians on open waters – they have not violated any international right whatsoever. Despite that fact, they have been killed, and this is a hostile attitude vis-a-vis Israel.

And we’ve always given Israel to remediate the situation, remediate the attitude. But instead of remediating the situation, especially in the last two or three years, they have been very insistent on adopting the same attitude as they always have, trying to legitimatize their practices. No explanation whatsoever can bring a higher price than the bloodshed of a human being. You are in Ankara right now, and I would like to ask you this one question, and please ask this question in Tel Aviv: What did those nine individuals – those nine innocent civilians – did? There’s one American citizen amongst those nine civilians. What have they done so that with an army they were attacked as if they were aboard a hostile ship on open waters?

The Turkish friendship is very valuable, but the reactions of the Turkish citizens towards hostility towards its own people will be quite valuable and will be quite strong as well. If you look back in time, you will see clearly that in terms of the Jewish people, we’ve always been very closely interested in their problems. We have been fighting against anti-Semitism, and history is a witness to that.

Today, we are fighting against anti-Semitism with the loudest words, loudest voice possible. We are combating against racism in all forms and shapes, and that attitude will sustain. If Israel is expected to hear positive comments from Turkey, I believe they need to revise their attitudes not only towards us but also towards the settlements in West Bank and the people of the region.

Never forget that until the Gaza attacks and the Mavi Marmara raid – the flotilla raid – the Israel in higher echelons were accommodated, were hosted in the best fashion possible. And we’ve tried relentlessly in order to provide a helping hand to the solution of the problem between Israel and Palestine, whether it be myself, whether it be the Prime Minister of Turkey.

Mr. Kerry and Mr. Obama, they have always contributed to the prospective solutions of the problems, and Turkey has always defended the very rightful and just solution between the two states based on the 1967 Agreement and borders that were recognized back then. So the two-state solution was always supported by Turkey. But if a country violates openly and clearly the right to live of our own people, we will always preserve the right to come up with statements, come up with remarks.

This is not an attitude towards a country. This is not an attitude towards a community. We are just reacting towards a hostile conduct. We are always ready to commit our full efforts to make sure that peace will prevail in the Middle East, and along with these really higher echelons within the state, we have worked closely in order to find a prospective solution to the problems therein.

I’ve quite recently shared with Mr. Kerry that we would do anything we can, within our capabilities, in order to make sure that the two-state peaceful solution can be established in that geography, and we shall always remain committed to provide any support whatsoever.

Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, you asked me what my reaction is to the comments of the Foreign Minister, and they are this: that it underscores the importance of our efforts to try to find a way forward to make peace in this region and to resolve the kinds of differences that excite the passions that the Foreign Minister has just articulated, and the differences of opinions about words and about their impact. And I think that the Foreign Minister and I had a very direct and very honest conversation about this.

I have been working on this issue that he was just referring to for almost two years. I believe there is a way forward, but it obviously gets more complicated in the aftermath of a speech such as that that we heard in Vienna, about which your question and these issues are sort of rekindled. I raised that speech very directly with the Prime – with the Foreign Minister, and I will also raise it very directly with the Prime Minister. And I think it’s very clear from statements made where we are and what we believe about that. The White House spoke, and I think they spoke very clearly. And obviously, we not only disagree with it, we found it objectionable.

But that said, Turkey and Israel are both vital allies of the United States. And we want to see them work together in order to be able to go beyond the rhetoric and begin to take concrete steps to change this relationship. Now, I believe that’s possible. I particularly think that given the many challenges that the neighborhood faces, it is essential that both Turkey and Israel find a way to take steps in order to bring about or to rekindle their historic cooperation. I think that’s possible, but obviously we have to get beyond the kind of rhetoric that we’ve just seen recently.

I think that the Foreign Minister has indicated to me a genuine desire to do that. I think he has thoughts and I have thoughts about how we can do that. So I think the most important thing is to try to find a way, as he said, to build on what he just recommitted to. And I think that recommitment is what is important. He said that Turkey believes in the two-state solution, that Turkey is committed to the process, and that Turkey will do anything in its power to help the United States try to bring that about. And that’s why I came here, that’s one of the reasons I’m here, and we’re going to continue to work on that.

QUESTION: (Via interpreter.) Thank you. My question will be addressed to Mr. Kerry.

SECRETARY KERRY: Could you just wait? (Laughter.) Thank you.

QUESTION: (Via interpreter.) My question will be addressed to Mr. Kerry. When the Syrian issues first developed, there were certain harsh reactions coming from the side of U.S. But as time went by, Washington never seemed to have shown the support that the Syrian opposition was expecting. And as the countries of the region, Turkey seems to be undertaking the significant amount of the burden. The summit that was organized in Rome, and the meetings that you had today, in the aftermath of those gatherings, whether it be the humanitarian aid aisles extending all the way to Syria, whether it be the opposition support to – whether it be the support that the opposition will receive, what kind of concrete steps will you be taking? And in what terms can Turkey and the United States can collaborate in that regard? Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much. Well, let me just say that the United States has had the same goal as Turkey from the very beginning. And not only have we shared the same goal, but we have actually both undertaken different steps, some of them in concert together and some of them individually, in order to address the Syrian situation.

I want to stress, to begin with, we both believe that the first priority is to try to have a political solution. We would like to save lives, not see them caught up in a continued war. But we are clear about who we support in the effort to restore freedom and unity to the people of Syria. And in that effort, we have worked together, not just Turkey and the United States, but a whole group of countries, all of whom have been doing different things according to their laws and according to their abilities.

Now in some cases, there were reservations in the earliest stages about who we are dealing with, who are we giving something to, who’s going to manage it. And then the Syrian opposition came together. It has gained greater unity, it has gained a greater voice, greater capacity. And now I think a lot more people are more comfortable with the notion that they’ve answered the question of who and there is more effort undergoing.

But together Turkey and the United States rallied to put sanctions together, which have helped to reduce the amount of money flowing to Assad regime’s war machine. Together we worked to strengthen the Syrian opposition so that we are in a position now to be able to do more. Together we saw the NATO Patriots come here in order to secure Turkey’s border. Together we have worked on the humanitarian effort. And we acknowledge that Turkey is giving safe refuge to tens of thousands of refugees. I think there are about 182,000 here now and about some 200,000 outside the camps, so you got 300 and some thousand in all.

FOREIGN MINISTER DAVUTOGLU: Outside the camps. Yes. Almost 400,000 together.

SECRETARY KERRY: Almost 400,000. And I would remind people that the United States of America is the single biggest humanitarian donor, having given about $385 million in order to be able to help create those camps, feed people in them, provide them shelter and security.

Now, our goal is the same goal as the Syrian people’s goal. It is to have a peaceful, political transition. But we are determined – and this was the – this is what came out of the meeting in Rome. I thought it was an extremely cooperative and determined, serious atmosphere in which there was unanimity by every country there that it was time to be able to do more in order that the Assad regime comes to understand that this – that the international community is not going to stand for SCUDs being fired indiscriminately against innocent civilians, women and children, young people, destroying the cities of Syria. That is unacceptable. And that determination began in earnest in Rome two days ago, and I am convinced, with the efforts of Turkey and others, it is going to continue in earnest in the days ahead.

FOREIGN MINISTER DAVUTOGLU: (Via interpreter) I would like to just share with you another remark. On March 15th, the second anniversary of the peaceful demonstrations will be celebrated in Syria. For the last two years, a civilian nation has been under heavy bombing and heavy attack. That’s why it is nigh time for the international community to full mobilize and start to move ahead. The Rome summit was a big confirmation —

I think you start to understand Turkish.

SECRETARY KERRY: I thought I was speaking Turkish. (Laughter.)

FOREIGN MINISTER DAVUTOGLU: You were following such closely, I said – (laughter) —

SECRETARY KERRY: I’ve gotten so used to listening and actually understanding, I said wait a minute, I’m – (laughter) – I don’t – (laughter) – but it was very good. (Laughter.)

FOREIGN MINISTER DAVUTOGLU: Yes. I think this is because we are speaking not from the tongue to the ear but from the mind to the mind. (Laughter.)

(Via interpreter.) In time, Mr. Kerry will be able to become much more fluent in the Turkish language. That’s what I believe.

Within this framework in the last gathering back in Rome, we’ve taken a significant momentum forward. Many significant decisions were made not only within the United Nations Security Council being a permanent member as the United States, but also having the identity of the strongest global actor, of significant contributions to solution of (inaudible) clear, has always been clear, the legitimate demands of the Syrian people will be realized and such a political transformation will take place and the necessary steps in order for that to be possible should be taken.

But even before that, there are millions of hungry, starving Syrian people trying to strive, trying to survive, outside in tents. They cannot go home with baskets full of food. They cannot sustain their families any longer. So the international community should become much more receptive of their pains. That’s why the international humanitarian aid corridor should be established once and for all.

And, as Mr. Kerry has stated, SCUDs were being fired on the civilian settlements, and that’s a war crime. And such conduct should be brought to a halt once and for all. We had very comprehensive talks over these issues in Rome and those talks will continue, but the main objective of us all will have to boil down to the fact that we need to protect the innocent civilians in Syria. And we will keep on discussing these issues over dinner.

I would like to welcome you all once again.


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