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Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz Roundtable with U.S. Traveling Press

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
December 04, 2002

Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2002

(Roundtable with U.S. traveling press, Hilton Hotel, Ankara, Turkey.)

Wolfowitz: We had discussions with both the Prime Minister and the head of the Justice and Development Party. We had a long dinner with Mr. Erdogan last night. And I would say, overall, the attitude of this new government.is very encouraging. It comes in with very strong democratic potentials and an extremely strong parliamentary mandate, a majority. And they've made it clear in everything they've done in the first few days really in office how committed they are to Turkey's role as a western-oriented democracy. Mr. Erdogan, I think, has visited 14 European capitals in fewer than that number of days, making Turkey's case for accession to the European Union. During the course of this visit, including dinner last night, we spent a great deal of time talking about the issues involved in it -- Turkey's trying to get a date for beginning accession negotiations, and also the issues connected with the Secretary General's peace proposal for Cyprus. We are very supportive of that effort and my colleague Marc Grossman left early this morning for Nicosia to continue discussions on those issues related to Cyprus. In addition to strongly expressing their commitment to joining the European Union and commitment to the democratic values that we sometimes call western values but I think are universal values, we also got very strong affirmations of Turkish support for the United States in this crisis with Iraq. We said at all levels of the government that we spoke to that Turkey has been with us always in the past and will be with us now, that Turkey's support is assured. I think it's a very strong message to Saddam Hussein and the regime in Baghdad, that in fact Iraq is surrounded by the international community. They do have to face a firm (inaudible) decision about whether they will disarm peacefully or whether we will be forced to disarm them. And on that score, also, I think we found a very good understanding from the Turkish government of what's required to achieve a peaceful resolution to the problem posed by Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. They have dealt with Saddam Hussein over a long period of time. They understand that it's not going to have that kind of basic change in attitude and policy unless he's confronted with a serious thereat of course, and they clearly are part of building that capability. Also I would say that they have a better understanding than many of our coalition partners of just how horribly the Iraqi regime treats its own people. I would say in many ways, this new government feels that more strongly than certainly its predecessor, and I would say more strongly than governments we deal with. They believe in democracy and the importance of democracy in a Muslim country. It makes them quite unhappy -- agonized might be the word -- looking at the condition of the Iraqi people. We have agreement to move forward with concrete measures of military planning and preparations that have frankly been in a bit of a holding pattern while the new government was getting established. That planning effort and those preparatory measures are essential to working out with some specificity what kinds of forces might be based in Turkey, where they might be based, and what kinds of improvements would have to be made to facilities. So that's the immediate task, of course, but there are also some larger issues. There are more issues for Turkey in the military action of helping in Iraq than probably any other country because the range of potential military forces involved is broader than any other coalition partner. Because Turkey is directly affected by what takes place next door in Iraq, and particularly the Turkish economy that will be affected, and finally because Turkey is probably more affected than any of our coalition partners by what comes afterwards in Iraq, and particularly in northern Iraq. There still are clearly important issues that we need to continue working with the Turkish government. The principles are very clear. We repeatedly expressed our support for the territorial integrity of Iraq, our opposition to a Kurdish state in northern Iraq, our concerns and support for the Turkoman population of Iraq. And those are fine principles but there are many concrete issues that are important should it come to the use of force. But let me emphasize: our goal is to avoid the use of force, and the key to doing that -- and this Turkish government understands it -- the key to doing that is confronting Saddam Hussein, surrounding Saddam Hussein with a unified international community. I think the last point I would like to make is that it's difficult to exaggerate the importance of economics for Turkey and for Turkish public opinion with respect to almost everything that's going on in this country right now. This is a country that's been through an economic crisis. It still hasn't emerged from it, though we see some hopeful signs. When you have that kind of situation, it's the poor people who suffer the most. This government was elected partly because of the suffering of the Turkish people. They are, like all Turks and like our government, concerned that if it should come to a military crisis in Iraq, the use of force in Iraq, that we do everything possible to mitigate the economic consequences. I would also say it's important to do everything possible to make sure that a military action if necessary is as quick and decisive as possible. But it was interesting last night, at dinner, when Mr. Erdogan was describing quite eloquently the condition of the poor in Turkey, particularly in southeastern Turkey, which is the area of course that's closest to Iraq, probably the poorest part of the country. He mentioned that there are some 50,000 tanker trucks that are idle because of the ongoing economic sanctions against Iraq, and that each of those trucks supports three families worth 150.000 families. I suppose it's half a million to a million Turks whose livelihood has been taken away by the ongoing economic crisis. And of course, to him -- and I understand that -- it's a symbol of what can be at risk for Turkey if the crisis deepens. But I think it's also a symbol of what can be opened up if we can get to a free and prosperous and open Iraq which has gotten rid of its weapons of mass destruction and is dealing in a fair and open way with its neighbors. There's a huge potential for Turkey, on the medium term, and certainly the long term, in opening up economic relations with Iraq. So while we are all in a mood of crisis and how to deal with the crisis, and how to deal with Saddam's weapons of mass destruction, I think it's very important to emphasize that the end result here has got to be something that's better for Turkey, better for the United States, better for the people of Iraq, and better for the world. One last thing I'll mention which is important: President Bush has invited Mr. Erdogan to come to Washington. We hope he might be able to do that soon, since there are many issues to discuss with him, including if he can come before the Copenhagen summit, obviously that complex of issues is still very much alive. We are going to do everything that we can to assist Turkey's bid to join the EU. Obviously, also, we want to continue not only with the military planning-level talks but with the higher-level political talks in the (inaudible).

Q: Can you shed any light on the Turkish stand on the use of their airbases following the statements and clarifications in the last few hours from the Turkish government as to what specifically they would allow?

Wolfowitz: I would say we're close but not yet exactly at the point of saying which bases we would use, certainly under which conditions. In fact, the immediate focus of our planning efforts needs to be to identify how much investment we've got to make in various bases if we are going to use them. We're talking potentially about tens of millions, probably several hundred million dollars of investment in various facilities that we might use. So it's not a small step. It's a step that we want to tee up for a political decision quickly, because it's an important step to take. But I think that's an immediate military task.

Q: We had an opportunity to have an exchange with the Foreign Minister yesterday. And he articulated Turkey's position as follows: He said fairly explicitly that Turkey would require a second UN Security Council Resolution before any military campaign could be launched from Turkish soil - a position his political advisor in the party reiterated. He said that substantial or a large number of U.S. ground forces was politically unsustainable. It was just more than the traffic would bear if we're talking about thousands or tens of thousands of ground forces. And he did say that he could envision cooperation on airspace or airbases, but within the parameters that there would have to be a Security Council Resolution and the process of inspections in Iraq would have to be pretty much exhausted. And he said that -- implied that -- on their side they might have more patience on this than the United States, although they also agreed that WMD was a problem. Are you satisfied with that degree of undertaking from the Turks, since it's the Bush administration position that you don't require a second resolution and since the last few days you've been talking about the need to present Iraq with a fairly substantial threat which - while you didn't specify exactly what it might be -- it seemed to imply might go beyond the use of few airbases.

Wolfowitz: Personally I wouldn't dismiss the use of few airbases as a small thing. That's exactly what we had from Turkey in the Gulf War. And it's extremely important, and more than almost any other coalition partner is even considering doing. So when I said the range of possible Turkish participation is broader than any other partner, I mean that there is no other coalition partner that has as many possible ways of assisting us. Also, Turkey is the only partner that borders Iraq and is also a democracy. Let's not take that too lightly. The ultimate decisions in Turkey are decisions that have to be taken by a democratic government, and it needs the support of public opinion and has to go to parliament. So we're talking about big decisions. And that there is some debate about exactly the circumstances is not surprising to me. We didn't get a chance to meet the Foreign Minister (inaudible). By the way, it is worth emphasizing that any government, especially a new government, will find its plate completely full with the issues of Copenhagen, and the issue of Cyprus and EU accession. Our meeting with the Prime Minister ran long, and the Foreign Minister had to go and meet the British Foreign Secretary. This is a very intense pace of activity here in Turkey. But as you said correctly -- and I think in fact the Foreign Minister stated this correctly -- the UN's security council resolution 1441 doesn't automatically authorize the use of force. It does require a second meeting of the security council. But it does not require a second security council resolution. As to what Turkey may need politically, I think, obviously, the Turkish government is the one that has to decide that. We have to make our own decisions about what level of dependence and commitment we will make with Turkey based on those understandings. But we had extremely good discussions with the Prime Minister and with Mr. Erdogan, and very strong expressions of Turkey's commitment to the alliance with the United States, Turkey's determination to be with the United States. I can assure the Foreign Minister and everyone else in this country that we will do everything possible to achieve a peaceful resolution to this issue, that we will exhaust all peaceful means. But you know the Turks are more realistic than many other people we've talked to about the fact that the only way to get to a peaceful outcome here is to convince Saddam Hussein that we're serious. And I think they understand that. I think Saddam Hussein should understand that they understand that. And the fact that there really is a very strong sense in this country and in this government that we need to get this issue resolved.

Q: It's just to clarify. Is this desire for a second resolution a Turkish policy or the Foreign Minister's preference?

Wolfowitz: Well first of all, I'm not here to speak for the Foreign Minister. I read his answer to your question, and I thought it was a little less explicit than you're making it but he has to speak for himself. There are different views, I think, among Turks, and commonly different views within the Turkish government. But it is an important question. It's one that we need to clarify at the highest levels of both governments. It's one reason why Mr. Erdogan can come to Washington, although it would not be by any means the only issue on the agenda. In fact, I think we'd like him to come, as I said, before Copenhagen so that we can discuss those issues. We need some clarity about it, but I feel generally very good about Turkey's commitment to be with the United States.

Q: Given the reluctance of nations to host U .S. ground troops, at least in large numbers in the Gulf area, is there a shortage of places from which you can deploy ground troops? Is that a concern at all?

Wolfowitz: I think we're quite comfortable with what we can do from the south. Obviously, if we are going to have significant ground forces in the north this is the country they have to come through, there is no other option. And that is a more complicated issue than probably any other potential issue. And it is, I think, clearly connected to concerns about what northern Iraq will look like after removal of the Saddam Hussein regime. But it's strongly our position -- we've repeated it here and we will repeat it in further discussions with Turkish officials -- that Turkey will be better off if they are there to help manage what comes afterwards, that a vacuum is not in Turkey's interest. And if we can have some clarity about what is the role of a coalition force and what their role is not, we think that some of these issues will be easier to solve. But it's a mistake to focus first on the military peace without having gotten more clarity on political (inaudible).

Q: Can you confirm that the Turk's commitment was to allow the U.S. use of bases? After the Foreign Minister spoke, the Foreign Ministry released a statement saying that the use of bases was a possibility but that there was no binding Turkish commitment.

Wolfowitz: Let me make clear there isn't a firm American request. We're going to go now immediately into very concrete discussions about what facilities might be used, what forces might be deployed on them, how much money is going to have to be invested to make them, bring them up to the level that we need. That will bring us hopefully fairly quickly to the next level of discussions and decisions. But until we are at that point, we're still talking theoretically.

Q: In principle did they agree that the U.S. could use their bases? And was that new this trip?

Wolfowitz: When they say that we have been with you in the past and we will be with you this time, that's what being with us means. I mean, I don't think there is any other interpretation of that. Obviously the devil is in the details. There are very important details here. But I'm quite confident that we will in fact have a significant level of Turkish participation -- exactly how much is something that we've been working on quite intensively.

Thank you very much.

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