Minister Gonul: (Editors Translation) Mr. Secretary, dear press members, I would like to start by welcoming US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates who is on a short visit to Turkey. It is the first time in seven years that a US Secretary of Defense is visiting Turkey and I am pleased to be his host.
I would like to thank His Excellency for not cancelling his visit on account of the unfortunate accident he had. This visit is especially significant in that it is the Secretary’s first visit to Turkey in his current capacity, and it also comes at a time when Kosovo’s independence of Kosovo as well as Turkey’s ground operation in northern Iraq are on the front burner in our region. Secretary Gates has had a brilliant career; he served in the White House National Security Council and worked under the US President. He has also had an outstanding academic career and holds Distinguished Service medals. Secretary Gates is the first career officer in the CIA's history to rise from entry-level employee to Director.
Secretary Gates and I discussed the current relations between our two countries; our cooperation in military, defense industry and technology; relations with NATO and the EU and our cooperation in counter-terrorism endeavors.
The US is an important ally for Turkey. The US is also important for us as the biggest supporter of our NATO membership and because of its long-standing and close cooperation in the modernization of Turkish Armed Forces. The high level of cooperation in the defense industry is evidenced by the fact that Turkey is one of the 9 countries engaged in the Joint Strike Fighter project, the modernization of a total of 217 F16 jets, and the manufacture of Black Hawk, Sea Hawk helicopters and 30 F16 jets. As is well known, our longstanding and good relations have recently developed even further. To establish peace in the region and in the world, our troops have worked together in various missions, including in Korea, Bosnia Herzegovina, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Somali and East Timor. Recent regional and global developments closely interest both Turkey and the USA. The fight against terrorism is the most important issue. The meeting between our Prime Minister and the US President on November 5, 2007 was a milestone in terms of our counter-terrorism efforts.
American political will has been made clear by the US President and the Secretary of Defense, and the PKK has been named a common enemy. Our countries decided to increase our existing cooperation in counter-terrorism and intelligence-sharing in the struggle against the PKK has begun. Despite Turkey’s diplomatic efforts, the terrorist organization remained in the northern Iraq; therefore, on November 28, 2007, our government gave authorization to the Turkish Armed Forces to launch a cross-border operation. Intelligence-sharing with the US, the opening of Iraqi air space and the leverage exerted in favor of Turkey all led to successful pinpoint operations by our Air Forces.
In addition to domestic ground operations, we launched a ground operation into northern Iraq on February 21, 2008. The purpose of this operation, as it has been stated on many occasions, is to render PKK terrorists ineffective and to disrupt the organizational infrastructure in the region. I believe this operation will contribute to the security of both Turks and Iraqis, as well as to the stability of the region.
Close relations between our countries and this visit by the Secretary of Defense demonstrate the importance of our strategic partnership. Our close cooperation in the defense industry and military affairs is also an indication of our mutual political harmony. Within this framework, I would like to stress once more the significance of the support the US has given us in our EU accession bid. I have already expressed my thanks to the Secretary.
I would like to take this occasion to state once more that the US support in the fight against the PKK is very important for Turkey. I would like to thank the Secretary in your presence for this support.
I believe that the Secretary’s important and exceptionally timely visit will greatly contribute to the good relations between our ministries and countries. Thank you for your patience.
Secretary Gates: Thanks to Minister Gonul and the Government of Turkey for hosting us. Later this morning, I will visit the Chief of Defense, the President and Prime Minister. In all of these meetings I am emphasizing the importance of a longstanding friendship and alliance between Turkey and the United States. Our nations have a very broad, very strong bilateral relationship, especially on defense matters.
We’re grateful for Turkey’s prominent role in Afghanistan and also in Kosovo. We continue to look for ways the U.S. can help the Turkish military modernize its force. Minister Gonul and I also talked about counterterrorism and our ongoing efforts to deal with threats from groups such as the PKK. In November, President Bush and Prime Minister Erdogan increased our intelligence sharing and that is been important to the Turkish efforts against the PKK in northern Iraq.
This morning I told the Defense Minister what I have said before: that the U.S. believes the current operation must be as short and precisely targeted as possible. The Turkish government should make clear to the Iraqi government and everyone concerned exactly what their intentions are and to limit the goals and scope of their operations. It should be clear that military action alone will not end this terrorist threat. While it is certainly part of the equation, there must be simultaneous efforts made with non-military issues such as economic programs and (inaudible). That is the only way to isolate terrorists from the population and provide a long-term solution to the problem.
I believe there is broad appreciation of the complexity of the situation - balancing the right of Turkey to defend itself with the need to maintain Iraqi sovereignty and territorial integrity. The key for all parties is transparency, cooperation and communication. The Turkish government needs to be working closely with Iraqi officials, including President Talabani, Prime Minister Maliki and the President of the Kurdistan Regional Government, President Barzani. Dialogue should be ongoing and it should be (inaudible). I appreciate the opportunity to be here today and I look forward to continue the strong relationship between our two nations.
Q: In your talks today, did you get a specific time commitment from the Turkish leadership on when they will end this operation and withdraw their forces from Iraq. If they did not make a commitment of time or the campaign extends, would the United States consider cutting or stopping the sharing of intelligence that is currently going on?
Secretary Gates: A specific time table did not come up in my meeting with the Defense Minister. I still have three meetings yet this morning, so I don’t know whether that will come up. I think that the key is for us to make clear to the government of Turkey what our interests are, our concerns about the situation in Iraq and what is important to serve both the interests of the United States and Turkey because I think we have shared interests here. I think that those interests probably are not advanced by making threats or by threatening to cut off intelligence.
Q: You are telling Turkey to leave northern Iraq as soon as possible. But, you went in to Afghanistan after 2001 on the bases of countering terrorism, then you went into Iraq with an excuse to counter the terrorists and you stayed in those places for years. Now, as you well know, at Turkey’s borders many terrorists camps exist. Why are you pressuring Turkey to end the operation as soon as possible. Don’t you think that this is a double standard?
Secretary Gates: I think we have to be sensitive to the fact that Iraq is sovereign territory. If I were to draw an analogy it would be the existence of terrorist training camps on the Pakistani side of the Afghan border. We realize that Pakistan is a sovereign government and what we do on the Pakistani side of the border is done strictly in concert and with the approval of the Pakistani government. So what we’re after is a closer relationship between the Turkish government and the government of Iraq so that they can work together to deal with this problem. The fact is we’re still dealing with a sovereign Iraq.
Q: Mr. Minister, you said in your opening statement that the design of the operation is destroying the PKK and render their infrastructure unusable. Could you tell how long you expect that operation take, it sounds like an ambitious goal that could take months?
Minister Gonul: First of all, I should explain that Turkish soldiers entered the area where no civilians, no village, nothing, only PKK camps and establishments. So, after finishing with all these infrastructures there is no need to stay there. We have no intention to disturb any civilian living area or civilian authorities. We have no intention to interfere with domestic politics and we have no intention to occupy any area. This is only law and order action, that’s all.
Q: Could you tell us how long that would take?
Minister Gonul: How long it is necessary. It is the winter conditions. If mission is accomplished, we have no intention to stay there.