United States Department of Defense United States Department of Defense

News Transcript

Press Operations Bookmark and Share


Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz Roundtable Discussion with Turkish Journalists

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

Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2002

(Roundtable discussion with Turkish journalists, Hilton Hotel, Ankara, Turkey.)

Wolfowitz: I will just make a few comments at the start. We had a very busy day yesterday and a packed schedule from the moment we landed here until about eleven o'clock at night. It's I think representative of the very busy days that this new Turkish Government is having with a very very full agenda of international foreign policy issues. Even if there were no need to discuss the subject of Iraq, the agenda of Copenhagen, of Turkey's hopes to get a date for EU accession, the issue of Cyprus would be totally preoccupying and in some ways it was preoccupying. I think it is the reason why when our meeting went late with the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister had already had to move on to see Jack Straw. So it's symbolic of just how busy things have been. But I am very encouraged by the discussions we've had with this new Government. I saw the Defense Minister, had a long discussion with the Prime Minister, and an even longer dinner last night with Mr. Erdogan, the head of the party. In general what we found was a very strong affirmation of what we've been observing the last couple of weeks already, which is this government's commitment to Turkey's role in Europe, to Turkey's aspirations to join the European Union, to the values that have been at the heart of Turkish aspirations since the founding of Turkish democracy early in the last century, of freedom and democracy and a commitment to secularism. All of those things have been strongly expressed by this new government and, as I say, including by the Prime Minister and Mr. Erdogan. It was also encouraging though not surprising to hear this new government express its strong support for what President Bush is trying to achieve and what the United Nations is trying to achieve with Iraq, to try, by presenting the Iraqi regime with a strongly unified international community, to achieve the disarmament of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, hopefully and preferably peacefully, or voluntarily, but if necessary by the use of force. And I think if anything this new government has a better common understanding with us about the need to resolve that problem and about the need to have a credible threat of force behind the United Nations if we hope to resolve that problem peacefully. At the same time very strongly hoping that in fact a peaceful outcome will be possible. But our chances of that peaceful outcome are definitely dependent on the Iraqi regime recognizing that they have no alternative to disarming themselves peacefully if they want to survive as a regime. And I think this new government understands that, and we heard very strong expressions of Turkish solidarity with the United States and of Turkish commitment to be with us as they have been with us in virtually every crisis of the past 50 years or 60 years. So I think all of that on the broad level is very encouraging. On the sort of very concrete specific level, we have agreement to proceed with the next immediate steps of military planning and preparations. We need to take those steps before we will be in a position to make specific decisions about whether and where and which forces might be based in Turkey. There are some big issues that we need to discuss further and have more clarity about in the process, particularly I would say issues about how to manage the economic consequences of any military crisis with Iraq. I think we have a better understanding after this visit than we did before that there may be steps that can be taken to construct a kind of safety net -- if I can use that term, I think that is what we talked about in Turkey's earlier economic crisis last year --a safety net that could actually minimize losses, as opposed to simply incurring them and dealing with them afterwards. Secondly, we've got important issues to discuss about exactly what military measures would need to be taken in northern Iraq if there is a use of force to make sure that we achieve the goals that both our governments have agreed on: maintaining the territorial integrity of Iraq, ensuring that there is not an independent state established in northern Iraq, and that the rights of Iraqi Turkomen are respected. So we have some concrete military planning work to do, we have some sort of more political/military, political/economic/military planning to do, and we hope to have some more discussions at the highest levels of both our governments. In fact, last night I was able to extend an invitation to Mr. Erdogan from President Bush to come to Washington. We are hopeful that he might be able to come as early next week, in which case we might be able to get one more round of discussions with him before Copenhagen. Obviously the Copenhagen issues are probably at the top of the Turkish agenda, but the subject of Iraq is right up there as well.

Q: Sir, yesterday you said that Turkey has a role to play towards Iraq policy. What kind of role do you foresee for Turkey. Can you give some details? For example, do you request from the Turkish Government the use of Turkish forces on the northern side? Can you give some details?

Wolfowitz: We're working on the details. The important role is the one that I think is very clear and should be very clear to the regime in Baghdad that Turkey is with us, that Turkey has been with us in the past, and that they're with us now and will be in the future. The Iraqi regime is literally surrounded by the international community, and has got to choose between disarming itself voluntarily or being disarmed by the use of force. If it comes to the use of force, the level of Turkish participation, or the level of U.S. forces that would operate out of Turkey is something that we still need to determine with precision. You can count on the fact -- I think we can count on the fact -- that Turkey will be with us. That's the important point. It is also worth emphasizing that the range of possible Turkish participation is broader than probably any other coalition partner. It involves not only the use of bases, but possibly the use of land routes, the airspace, and questions too possibly about a role of Turkish forces. But the more extensive our role from here, the more extensive Turkish participation, I think depends also on getting more clarity between us - and in fact with the people of northern Iraq -- about what we hope to see in northern Iraq after the Saddam Hussein regime. We've been very clear on the broad principles. I think we're now at the point of needing to have some more clarity about the details.

Q: You've used a sentence something like we need to specifically decide which forces might be based and we need some further clarity. Now do we understand that now we have a commitment from the Turkish side to, for instance, base some American forces on Turkish land, that we would go on planning on that?

Wolfowitz: To continue on planning, the commitment from the Turkish side is that Turkey will be with us. In exactly what ways they will be with us is something that we need to work out. We need to understand ourselves what the potential is of different Turkish facilities. We need to understand with real precision now how much money will have to be invested in different facilities to make them useful for American forces. We are not talking about small expenditures. We are talking about probably several hundred million dollars of potential, possible improvements to the range of facilities that we're looking at. So until we've done that work, we aren't in a position to make specific requests, and obviously the Turkish Government is not in a position to give us specific answers. But, we do have agreement to proceed with the kind of planning work that will give both our governments those options. I think developing concretely the military options is a key part of trying to convince the Iraqi regime that this has to be resolved peacefully. I've noticed many comments in the Turkish press about the importance of exhausting every effort to resolve this problem peacefully if possible. (inaudible) that is the view of the United States as well the view of our President. But it is also important for people to understand that -- it may seem like a paradox -- but you are not going to get to a peaceful resolution if you create any doubt in Saddam's mind ultimately there is the possibility of force behind it. It is always a prime balance to draw between affirming your interest in a peaceful resolution and making clear your resolve to settle the problem in one way or another. I think our President has been very clear on those points.

Q: Would you say that all these efforts -- millions and millions of dollars spent on rehabilitation of some facilities and everything --would you call it a step for deterrence or would you call it a step for an attack?

Wolfowitz: I would call it an investment in peace, to be honest. But let's be clear. It is very important to be clear. If anyone thought I said we have decided to spend this kind of money, then you're several weeks at least ahead of me. What I said is we have to make decisions about whether to make that investment. And the Turkish Government has to make decisions about whether to have us make that kind of investment. Until we know with precision which facilities we are talking about and how much money we would be spending, neither government is quite yet at the point of a decision. So, don't make it sound as though we are rushing out to spend that money. But I think it is an investment in peace. It is part of deterrence, and our hope would be that we never have to use it. That would be the best possible outcome that would save a lot of money in the long run.

Q: How about the involvement of the Turkish military in the case of a crisis? Do you have a separate view on the possible role of the Turkish side - that the Turkish military could play? Because there are press reports that your side would like the role of the Turkish army, especially in northern Iraq, to be restricted to certain missions, whereas the Turkish side would have a bigger...

Wolfowitz: I have a lot of sympathy for the press reports, because people are grappling to try to understand what takes place, and understandably our military planning has to be a secret. So, there is a lot of speculation, and I can't give you precision. I can say that the range of issues that we still have to clarify is broad. There are a broad range of possibilities for Turkish participation. Stop me if I've said this already to this group -- I've said it once or twice this morning -- Turkey has more potentially to contribute to this effort than any other coalition partner. Both in facilities and over flight rights and bases of various kinds, and even possibly in forces. But the more one gets into discussion of Turkish Forces, the more clarity we have to have, the more clarity Turkey has to have, and the more clarity the people in northern Iraq have to have about exactly what final outcome we are looking at. I think that's clearly an important issue.

Q: Will there be a northern front?

Wolfowitz: I think it's clear from the statements of the senior officials of this government, the senior leaders of this government, that Turkey will be with us. Turkey being with us means that the Iraqi regime is literally surrounded by the international community. And they better take it seriously. This is really their last chance to decide to either have a peaceful resolution, which requires giving up those weapons, or have us do it by force. We much prefer a peaceful outcome.

Q: You know that Mr. Yasar Yakis made a statement and in the case of use of force, we will give the air bases, air space permission to United States. And during the dinner Mr. Erdogan gave the same statement, said the same thing or how can you evaluate this statement?

Wolfowitz: As I said, partly because there was so much other foreign affairs activity going on yesterday and our meeting with Prime Minister Gul went long, we did not get to meet with the Foreign Minister. So I don't have the benefit of having directly exchanged views with him. I think the public appetite for details, which is understandable, is ahead of the level of details that we have in our planning. What we have is a clear agreement to work out those details. The planning efforts and the preparatory efforts, which were in a bit of a holding pattern within the new Turkish Government, will now move forward and we will be able to make those kinds of concrete decisions.

The last two questions.

Q: (nearly inaudible question regarding aid) can you just lighten up that issue? There are some amounts like 20 billion dollars worth of either investment or cash aid that can be given to Turkey. These of course are in all the headlines. Can you confirm these numbers on background?

Wolfowitz: No I can't confirm any numbers. Because first of all I couldn't, but secondly I think what we understand -- I now understand -- after yesterday that I did not understand so much before is that if we do things in the right way, if we can find a way to construct the right kind of safety net beforehand, we can actually bring those potential losses way down. It's much better to take preventive steps than to have to deal with problems afterwards. Also, I want to repeat - if I didn't say it yet to this group - that it's important not only to think about the immediate short-term economic impact, which will be a negative one if there is military action, but also to think about the medium-term and long-term impact of a free and prosperous Iraq that is no longer under economic sanctions, that is trading freely with its neighbors, including particularly its immediate democratic neighbor here in Turkey. The upside for the Turkish economy, I think, is enormous. And the more -- if it comes to the use of force -- the more quickly we can resolve the issue the better it is from the economic point of view. So there is definitely a relationship between the level of Turkish participation in a military action, if it comes to it, and our ability to get past that quickly and minimize economic consequences.

This has to be the last one.

Q: What's the schedule in your mind for the next coming days? When do you think the first American troops can be based in Turkey? And did you request some sort of .. Is there a deadline for the Turkish Government in mind? And another different question as it is the last one: What is the American Government's thoughts about Mr. Erdogan being in his past an Islamic leader and now he is the leading figure in the country. You said that President Bush has invited him. Does he have any special thoughts about him being an important figure for the Islamic region?

Wolfowitz: We aren't yet at the point of talking about stationing specific American forces in Turkey. And I think that is a significant political step for the Turkish Government, and probably one that engages the Parliament. That is something that's not for us decide, but for Turkey to decide. We would like to get to that point of decision sooner rather than later, because the more quickly we can actually be doing concrete things on the ground, I think, the stronger signal we will be sending to Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi regime that they really have to change their ways. But I think it's already very clear that in whatever form it comes we will be confronting -- if it comes to it, if it comes to the use of force -- Saddam, will be facing a military coalition from all directions, including here. But the exact time lines -- we'd like to make them short as possible, but obviously that depends in the first instance on how long it takes to work out the military planning details, and then in the second instance it's a question of the Turkish Government, Turkish politics. And that's obviously something the Turks have to decide. On the broader question you raised, it's obviously up to Turks to choose their own government. They spoke very clearly in this last election. I've believed for a long time, and even more strongly since September 11, that Turkey, as a modern secular democracy and as a Muslim majority country, it represents a very important alternative to the Muslim world from the very backward-looking, constrained view that the terrorists and their spiritual colleagues would like to impose on the world's Muslims. And for that reason, I believe Turkey's success is very important to the world, and the United States in its larger battle for the hearts and minds of people in the Muslim world. I find it very encouraging that this new government, and the head of this party, who you say, I guess, has Islamist roots, but in fact specifically rejects the Islamic label, has made such an effort in its first days in office to try to persuade the European Union that Turkey wants to be and should be a member of the European Union. And they clearly do so recognizing that that means more moves in the direction of the free democratic institutions that sometimes are mistakenly called western institutions, but in fact are universal aspirations. I think Turkey is at a kind of strategic crossroads not only geographically, but in a kind of spiritual sense as well. So Turkey's success is based on those principles, and incredibly important to the whole world. And I'm very encouraged by the first couple weeks of this new government.

Additional Links

Stay Connected