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Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz Media Availability With U.S. Print Journalists

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
July 17, 2002

(Interview with U.S. Print Journalists Karl Vick, Washington Post, Andrew Finkel, Time, Catherine Colins, Chicago Tribune, James Dorsey, Wall Street Journal, Sebnem Avzu, New York Times)

Wolfowitz: Hello. We do have a door prize for the best question that's not about Iraq. Let me just start with a few words of introduction. This is a visit that was actually originally planned for last December and was postponed a couple of times. The political crisis that hit here ten days ago or so -- there were some discussions about whether we should go ahead with it. We were urged by the Turks to come on. I am very glad that we did. We had very useful discussions with a whole range of people, including officials, politicians, businessmen, the Prime Minister himself, and defense and military officials. And our purpose in coming here was really to discuss the broad range of issues in this relationship, and it is accurately described as a strategic partnership, which means that the whole range of issues are of interest and importance to us. And even though this is a time of enormous political uncertainty in Turkey, having the benefit of Turkey's perspective is very valuable.

We came here to listen. We didn't come here pushing for decisions on anything. We discussed many aspects of our bilateral relationship, including particularly the economic and defense issues. We discussed the very important subject of Turkey's aspirations to join the European Union, which is something that we strongly support. We believe that that would be not only good for Turkey, but also good for the European Union, and also important and good for the United States. So, even though some people say it is not our business, we believe it is and we have been pushing that strongly.

We have been interested in the Turkish perspective on a whole range of regional issues. Turkey is a country that has really stepped up to important responsibilities after the Cold War. They had peacekeepers with us in Somali, and they've got peacekeepers with us today in Bosnia and Kosovo, and, importantly, in Afghanistan, and I spent Monday in Afghanistan including a meeting with the Turkish commander of the security assistance force in Kabul and they are doing an impressive and professional job, a job that no other country was willing to take on. So, we are very appreciative of Turkey's capabilities and its willingness to take on difficult tasks. Obviously, one of the regional issues we discussed was Iraq, but we came here to get the benefit of Turkish perspectives on that issue, not to press them for decisions. The President has made it very clear what he considers the problem to be, but has not made the hard decisions about how and what to do about that problem. And before making them it's important to my boss, the Secretary of Defense, and important to the President, important to our whole administration, to have as good an understanding as possible what Turkey's interests are, since Turkey will be one of the countries most affected.

I guess one last observation. I am old enough that I have been dealing with the U.S. - Turkish relationship for slightly more than 25 years, and I have been impressed over that period of time, among other things, with the progress this country has made. More impressed by the progress than by the problems, which are there, but I think they're making progress on them. I've been impressed how important Turkey is strategically and its importance didn't end with the end of the Cold War, when we, after the Cold War, found the big problems in the Balkans, for example. Turkey was there to play an important role. Its strategic importance since September 11 cannot be emphasized enough, and it is important not so much for where it is but for what it represents.

And I think it represents the idea that democracy and free enterprise are systems and values that are applicable to Muslim populations just as they are to European or East Asian populations, and I think that it is a very important part of what the President has referred to as building a better world beyond the war on terrorism. Since what the terrorists are trying to do is impose a very distorted, totalitarian view of Islam on a people who I don't think really wants that. I think what Turkey represents is much more the future of the Muslim world. So, it always reinforces the value of this strategic partnership which, I must say, I think, should make more American people know about this strategic country. In my previous incarnation as Dean at Johns Hopkins I had occasions a couple of times to bring American visitors here who had never been here before. Their reaction was always the same. They were surprised by so many positive things that this country represents, in addition to the incredible history, art, and culture. So I would actually, if anyone wants, be open to comments, as well as questions, since some of you know more about Turkey than I do.

Q: How concerned are you are about the political instability in Turkey?

Wolfowitz: We are and I think the source of the greatest concern is that the political uncertainty comes at a time just when it seemed as though the economy was starting to pull out, and it puts a question mark over the economic improvement. I think if it weren't for that, one could easily say, OK, it is democracy, it is going through some kind of political turbulence, it is inherent to democracy, but it does affect the way the economy works. We had dinner on Sunday night with a group of businessmen who reported that they saw lots of signs of recovery and life in the private sector, which was good to hear. But we also heard many expressions of concern that it was important to resolve the political uncertainties here in a way that didn't lead to economic problems, and, very importantly, by the way, to keep on with, at least, if not create further progress on the reforms at least to sustain what is going on.

Q: I can imagine that Iraq came up?

Wolfowitz: Let me go back. The President has said there is a problem here. It is a real danger to the United States. Iraq is a country that supports terrorism, that is hostile to us, that has weapons of mass destruction and that is developing more of them, and that is not a problem we can live with indefinitely, but he hasn't made any of the other decisions that would go to charting a course forward or to defining precisely how we hope to see a new regime in Iraq, and clearly, in the decisions he takes, he does have to think about what the effects are of actions in this neighborhood, what the effects are here in Turkey. And it is very helpful, to me at least, I think, and I hope that will be helpful to our whole administration, to have a better first-hand feel for Turkish concerns. But it is a difficult set of decisions that only our President can really make.

Q: Can you tell us what specifically the Turks expressed as concerns?

Wolfowitz: I suppose you could say there are the concerns about what happens during the course of a change of regime, and then there are the concerns that relate to what comes afterwards, and we heard them on both subjects. I think there is a lot of agreement about what we both would like to see after Saddam, that is to say, in Iraq, that is unified and preserves the territorial integrity of the country. We are both opposed to a Kurdish state. We are both concerned about the rights of minorities, particularly, I guess, the Turcoman minority. In fact, I was explaining that we shouldn't even talk about these minorities, since they are a key constituent element of the Iraqi population. And we are obviously concerned to make sure that one tyranny isn't simply replaced by another, that the outcome should be a democratic Iraq. So, there are some important things that we agree on, and there are some important things where we have different views, and there are important issues where we need to learn more and being able to gain a perspective from Turkey that is very valuable.

Q: What are the economic issues in regard to these arrangements?

Wolfowitz: We talked a lot about economic issues immediately...

Q: In other words, Turkish concerns about the economic effects of an operation in Iraq?

Wolfowitz: We are not at the point of asking them to do anything, so we are not at the point of addressing specific issues, but we have certainly been reminded many times to the fact that some of the promises made to Turkey at the time of the Gulf War went unfulfilled. And that Turkey has suffered a good deal economically from ten years of sanctions on Iraq. So, there are a lot of concerns. I think, on the other side, there is a lot that could be positive: an Iraq that's democratic and free and open and prosperous.

Q: How does it work? You are dealing with one government that announces elections at the same day that they are talking to you. How do you know that what you are discussing now will be honored?

Wolfowitz: We are not talking about decisions, so there is no issue of honoring. We are not asking their commitments so that question doesn't come up, and the perspectives that one gets, including from politicians, even though they may not be in power later, but from politicians, from businessmen, certainly from government officials who will probably be around for a long time. Those perspectives are quite helpful. They tend to have a distinctively Turkish consensus around them. All Turks don't agree on everything, by any means. But, for example, the whole importance of Turkey's membership in the EU that is something that came up a lot.

Q: The Turkish papers all seem to have the month of November as set for Iraq.

Wolfowitz: They didn't get it from us.

Q: Let me ask you about the EU. There is a polarization in Turkey. Some say that the upcoming elections will be a referendum on the EU. During the course of your visit, did you talk about ways to make the Europeans take a more positive view?

Wolfowitz: I certainly go back intending to reinforce the importance of our pressing the Europeans that this is a time that Europe could have a strong positive influence here in Turkey that would be beneficial to all of us. We think it is both of the level of expressing a kind of long-term confidence in Turkey that will, I think, be valuable from the point of view of the Turkish economy today. But also in respect to this much larger issue of the President's phrase I used before: "building a better world beyond the war on terror." I think that making clear that the European Union is not just a Christian club, but it is open to a predominantly Muslim country, I believe, has huge long-term benefits and impacts. I think it is something that we need to continue to raise at every opportunity and at the highest levels of European governments, even though they sometimes get tired of our doing so. And this is precisely, I think, because of the sensitivity of this moment. It is a time when even positive gestures would be noticed.

Q: You share the view that this coming election will be a referendum on Turkey's EU membership?

Wolfowitz: A problem of democracy is that governments change. But it is also the case that the governments change when they come into power. They frequently adopt a broader national perspective and I think that we, the United States, as a country, have an obligation to keep pressing our European allies on what we believe is an issue of fundamental strategic importance. Sometimes we are more successful, sometimes less.

Q: Are you confident that you have the full support of Turkey in case you want to have an operation in Iraq?

Wolfowitz: You know, I don't know how many times to keep repeating. We didn't ask for Turkish support, and we haven't made any decision. We didn't ask for any support. That's the answer to that question. That was not what our discussions were about.

Q: If you aren't at the point of making commitments, are the Turks at least asking for anything specifically in terms of your support?

Wolfowitz: Let's be clear. I guess if you mean things in return for supporting us in Iraq, the answer is no, because we were not in that kind of discussion. There are a number of things that are on our agenda, and some of them are ten years old. They are asking us about what is happening with the $200 million and the $28 million that the Vice President promised when he was here. The answer to that is in the Congress now, and we are quite hopeful that it will be approved. They are very interested in what is happening on Qualified Industrial Zones. It was an education for me to simply learn about that issue, but none of this is in the context of dealing with the Iraq issue.

Q: I have to come back to November just because it is in every Turkish newspaper. Maybe they were all briefed by the same guy who said that nothing will happen before November. But you cannot clarify.

Wolfowitz: I can. This is a decision only the President can make and the President hasn't made a decision, so there is no substance to it.

Q: Afghanistan. What's your impression of Turkey's leading the ISAF force?

Wolfowitz: It's interesting, by the way that we have been talking with the Turks about Afghanistan since September 12. I believe, and have gotten a lot of advice that has stood the test of time. I think they have a pretty good appreciation of some of the problems of that country. With respect to ISAF specifically, their commitment is to lead the force for six months in Kabul. And, again, contrary to some of the reports, the United States is not opposed to ISAF expansion, but it is hard to expand ISAF. Number one, unless we decide there is a clear mission for it. There is a clear mission for it in Kabul from the beginning, and it has been a big success story.

The purpose of ISAF was to keep Kabul from becoming a possession of one single ethnic group in Afghanistan, which would have had serious destabilizing effects. It is unique because it is the capital. An ISAF presence somewhere else in the country, were it going to be considered, would have to be very precise about what it is going to accomplish, but, secondly, there would have to be some people volunteering to perform that task. It's not that easy to get, even for the Kabul mission. Mazar-I-Sharif is a place that is clearly of some concern. There have been reports of violence in that area. Some of it, reportedly, clashes between some of the powerful local leaders. I had the opportunity on Monday to meet with two of them, General Dostum and Professor Muhakkek, and make the point as forcefully as I could that they really have a responsibility to their people to get this violence under control, that, in an atmosphere of violence and instability, it is very difficult, at the moment impossible, to do the kind of humanitarian and economic assistance that they want and need. And I think they understand that and we do think when people talk about developing a more stable security environment in Afghanistan, it is impossible, in my view, to exaggerate the importance of economic assistance. There is so much discussion about what ISAF might do or might not do, when, in fact, the real leverage on getting people to behave properly is going to be economic incentives. And there, too, we feel that some of the promises that have been made have been a little slow on the delivery. The leverage we have is not as large as it should be.

Q: What kind of money are we talking about?

Wolfowitz: Do you mean how much?

Q: Yes.

Wolfowitz: Well, we are talking about hundreds of millions of dollars, not multi-billion dollars.

Q: You speak of Turkey's symbolic importance, but is there something practical, in the day to day sense, that Turkey is doing in the war against terrorism? Is Turkish intelligence an ally? Is it taking an active role?

Wolfowitz: Very definitely. Unfortunately, this country has a long history of having to deal with terrorism and it's one of the targets of the terrorists of the al Qaeda variety, so we've had very good and close cooperation with Turkish intelligence. It is part of this business of chasing down little cells here and there. People sometimes mistakenly think it is an organization that is headquartered in Afghanistan, and we can just find one particular individual, and cut his head off, and the whole organization will shrivel up, but this is of course not how it works. It is embedded all over the place and it is embedded here in Turkey. So, cooperation with Turkish intelligence people is very important and very valuable and very forthcoming.

Thank you very much.

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