T H E   W H I T E   H O U S E

Background Briefing by Senior Administration Officials on President Clinton's State Visit to Turkey

Help Site Map Text Only

For Immmediate Release November 15, 1999




6:40 P.M. (L)

MR. LOCKHART: Let me, for those of you who remember Mike McCurry's e-mail to me about not telling you who the background briefers are so you can figure it out, I've broken the rule again. But to all of those who aren't familiar or normal participants here, the next two distinguished gentlemen can be quoted only as a senior administration official and not by name. They'll give you a sense of what the meetings were today, the bilats -- there were a number of them -- but, again, I stress that both of them are quoted as senior administration officials. Thank you.

Q Do you have anything on any specific additional earthquake aid that's going to be forthcoming while he's here?

MR. LOCKHART: We'll have some more to say about that later. the President will be talking about that tomorrow. And I think that you'll also see that some of the aid that we were bringing with us is being reconfigured to deal with the most recent earthquake and tragedy of Friday.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Good evening. What I thought I'd do was run you through the President's restricted session with President Demirel, and then have my colleague run you through the rest of the meetings that we had today, and also go into a little more detail on the earthquake assistance we're providing to Turkey.

The meeting with President Demirel began, indeed, with a brief discussion of the earthquakes; the August earthquake, the most recent one. Demirel thanked the President for all the United States has done, is continuing to do to help Turkey face these tragedies.

President Demirel began by noting after the discussion of the earthquakes that in the 75 years of Turkey's history, the President is only the third American president to visit Turkey -- Eisenhower was here and President Bush was here. And the President highlighted to Demirel at the beginning something that he also referenced at some length in his speech, that some people, after the Cold War, thought that the U.S.-Turkey relationship would become less important; in fact, it's probably become more important. And the evidence of that can be seen in the very broad and important agenda that the Presidents went through in their meetings and the President went through with Prime Minister Ecevit and other members of the Turkish administration.

Together, the United States and Turkey are working on adapting NATO to the 21st century, they're working for peace in the Balkans, they're working to advance peace in the Middle East, they're working for stability in the Caucasus, they're working on diversifying energy supply, working to contain Iraq, working to pursue the fallen relations with Greece, working, of course on trade and investment between our two countries -- more on that tomorrow.

And perhaps more broadly, the importance that's reflected in the President's conviction that Turkey's success in building a country that's a strong democracy, that's secular and that's modernizing is vitally important to the future of peoples in both countries.

Let me, very briefly, take you through some of the issues that the two Presidents touched on in their session. They discussed the relationship between Armenia and Azerbaijan, in particular, the efforts to bridge the gap between the two over Nagorno-Karabakh. President Demirel reemphasized the need to settle the conflict in order to normalize relations between Armenia and Turkey; but he spoke very eloquently, as well, about the potential for Armenian-Turkish relations.

They talked a bit about Chechnya and Russia. They both agreed on Russia's right to combat terrorism but, also, as Sandy suggested, expressed deep concern about civilian casualties and refugees and the need to find a political solution.

On democracy and human rights, there was also a discussion between the two Presidents. President Clinton applauded the progress that Turkey has made in enhancing its democracy and strengthening human rights, and my colleague will have more on that, because there was a lengthier discussion during the expanded session.

On the Middle East peace process, they both agreed that we were reaching critical decision points, and both expressed strong support for doing everything that could be done to advance that process. They talked about Southeast Europe, and in particular, President Demirel expressed strong support for the stability pact, as did President Clinton, and both agreed on the need to carry forward the commitments that our countries and European allies had made in Sarajevo.

There was a discussion, as well, about energy. President Clinton expressed pleasure that we're making important progress on the Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline and also on the trans-Caspian gas project. This is part of a sustained effort to build an east-west energy corridor, to diversify sources of supply, to bolster stability in the region.

The two Presidents also talked about Iraq. They agreed on the importance of maintaining Iraq's territorial integrity and also on the fact that Saddam Hussein continues to pose a threat to his own people, to countries in the region and, indeed, to the world.

That was it for the restricted session. Later in the day, the President had a courtesy call with Prime Minister Ecevit. The Prime Minister reported in some detail on a recent trip that he took to Russia, and there was also a courtesy call with the Speaker of the Assembly before the President's speech.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you. Let me just talk a minute about what was called the expanded session, which was President Demirel and Prime Minister Ecevit, a couple of other ministers who were there, an expanded group on our side. This also, as my colleague said, began with a conversation about the earthquakes, and the Turks again expressing their thanks for all the things that the United States had done, in terms of responding to the earthquake in August and the earthquake late last week.

President Demirel then made a statement about the importance of Turkey in the world, using figures such as that -- he said Turkey was the 16th largest economy in the world, 70 percent of Turkey's trade is with Europe, that Turkey's objective is to be a democratic and free market country, that there still is, as he said, a huge amount of state enterprises in Turkey, but that they hope over a 10-year period to make a lot of progress in selling them off.

He then turned the floor over to Prime Minister Ecevit who, as he had done when he was in Washington, talked a little bit about the economic challenge that Turkey faces. Certainly, he talked about the state of their negotiation with the IMF, said that Turkey really needed more assistance from the international community, and that, whereas, in the past, the problem here had always been hyperinflation, high interest rates, that the importance now was to get economic growth going in this free market area.

He made a point of thanking the President for the lead the United States has taken in supporting international assistance to Turkey, and he stopped and said he especially wanted to thank the President for his efforts in getting private Americans to make donations to Turkey's relief.

President Demirel then called on the Minister for Human Rights, Minister Irtemcilick, and he made a presentation to the President about the government's program on democracy and human rights, stressing that they had, with the capture of Mr. Ocalan and other efforts, had really now taken substantial steps to control PKK terrorism, and that they needed now to move quickly to further enhance human rights in Turkey. And he gave a description of these things. And at the end of the meeting, you should know the Secretary of State, as the meeting was breaking up, reiterated her invitation to Minister Irtemcilick to come and visit the United States in January.

The President responded, as you might imagine, on most of these issues. First, he talked a little bit about what the United States had done in the earthquake -- and over just now, there's a very good fact sheet, I think, about what we have tried to put out, so I'd urge you to take a look at that -- substantial resources, substantial amount of effort. There is one thing that we did today -- the fact sheet talks about the possibility of Federal Emergency Management Agency in Turkey signing a protocol with the government of Turkey on cooperation in emergency management and disaster mitigation. And I'll just update you that we did sign that protocol today while we were at the Presidency.

The President talked about the kind of assistance he'd like to see for Turkey in the future, and focused very much on Turkey's economy, and getting Turkey's economy to grow. And as my colleague said, the importance of the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline, trans-Caspian pipeline, and very importantly as well, the number of private American investments that we see happening over, we hope, the next few days or the next few months in Turkey, mostly in the energy sector, that the President also talked about in his departure press conference from the Presidency.

The President then also spent considerable time, as you might imagine, talking about democracy -- not just in Turkey, but democracy in the world -- and told the assembled group of Turks that, of course, it's a huge challenge all over the world to reconcile, right now, people's desire to celebrate their culture, have ethnic diversity, and be part of a single state. And he cited -- very interestingly, I think, for our Turkish friends -- the issue of Arlington County, and the Arlington County Schools, as I know he has in the past -- hundreds of different nationalities, hundreds of different languages, all sort of being part of one school system in a way that people are able to be part of one thing, but also celebrate their diversity. And I thought he was particularly effective about that.

I mean, he really talked about looking forward 20 years, the kind of challenges that our nations would face, and how are we going to deal with those challenges. And, clearly, dealing with diversity inside of a nation-state was very important, and that Turkey's efforts in that regard would be extremely important.

President Demirel then talked about their efforts to further their candidacy for EU membership, thanked the United States for our help in that and, as Sandy said, did talk a little bit about defense industries. The President, just as he did in the press conference, talked about his strong support for Turkey's candidacy to the European Union.

In the end, we talked a lot about Greek-Turkish relations at the end of that meeting. Foreign Minister Cem made a presentation about the work that he was doing, that Greece and Turkey were doing together to try to make progress. And the President closed that section by saying how important it was to make progress in Greek-Turkish relations, and urged the Turkish side to find some -- gesture, he called it -- between now and the Helsinki summit which would further the momentum that's already ongoing.

And with that, I think we'd be glad to take your questions for a couple of minutes. Yes, please?

Q Turkish Cypriot leader yesterday, in his second statement of the day, just before your plane landed, criticized the President's remarks made on the plane, criticized his characterization of the two leaders, namely Mr. Denktash and President Clerides. And even took back his commitment to go to New York on that premise. He said that was against a format that was promised to him. What kind of format was promised to him, and should we expect some change in the characterization of the U.S. in reference to the two leaders?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'd say three things. One is, I think it's important to step back and remember what the standard is that we're trying to meet, and that is the standard of the G-8 statement from June, that there should be talks under U.N. auspices without preconditions.

And our view is that even though there was some confusion over the past couple of days, no doubt about it, that what is going to happen in New York on the 3rd of December meets that standard. There are going to be talks, they're going to be under U.N. auspices, they will be without preconditions.

So I'll let Mr. Demirel and everyone else involved in this speak for themselves, but we've tried to hit that standard, and I believe we did.

Q When you talk about investments in the energy sector here, what are you talking about, exactly?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There are several -- and there will be some fact sheets, and I hope there will be an event tomorrow in the afternoon. There are a number of American companies that have projects about ready to be signed, deals ready to be made. Mostly, it's in the gas area -- electric generation, big power projects.

Q You said that the President said at the end of the meeting that it will be a good idea for Turkey to make a gesture towards Greece before they can -- conference. Can you elaborate more on that, what do you mean about that?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think a little bit like you and I were talking about before, our object here was to encourage the momentum that has taken place in Greece and Turkey between Greece and Turkey -- I think, as Sandy said earlier, that predates the earthquake, and that's an important point. So we'd like to see this momentum continue to go up. And as the President said, the Greeks have taken certain risks for peace in this regard and Turkey has as well. And we'd like to see both sides continue this momentum.

Q So you -- gestures from both sides, not only from Turkey towards Greece?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: -- Turkey. And what I reported to you was the fact that the President urged the Turkish side, if they could, to find some gesture to keep this momentum going in advance of Helsinki.

Q What was the reaction on the Turkish side?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, the Turkish side, I think, as Mr. Cem -- it was Mr. Cem who made the presentation, said they were very interested in continuing this momentum. It's certainly in their interest. Yes, sir.

Q The agreements tomorrow are going to include the oil pipeline from Bacu, as well as the trans-Caspian?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't think so. I believe that's for Thursday and there's still some work going on, on that.

Q So tomorrow is what, finance?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's private power projects. There are some power projects and also some -- I can't remember -- it's hydroelectric and some fuel agreements. There's a technical term for it, I'm sorry it just escapes me at the moment. Fuel supply agreements -- they're called fuel supply agreements to make sure that there's enough fuel for these planes.

Q Pipeline stuff is --


Q In answer to my question, Mr. Berger said that also they discussed confidence building measures in the Aegean. Could you just clarify, what is it about?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I mean we're giving a background here. I'm not going to go through every bit of detail. As I say -- as I said to your colleague, I think the important thing was the President was trying to encourage all of the progress that can be made and keep this momentum going up.

One of the great things, I think, about what's going on between Greece and Turkey is it's between the two of them and it ought to stay that way. We've always said that the best way to solve this problem is when these two countries actually talk to one another. So we're not going to say, here do this, here do that, here's 15 ideas -- it's for the two countries to do. We just want to encourage this momentum and that's the right position to be in.

Q Did they talk about the death penalty, especially the death penalty given to Ocalan?


Q Could you set the stage for us a little bit for the OSE meeting, and particularly where are you are with agreements over the CFE?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I can't really right now. There are a lot of people negotiating that down in Istanbul --

Q So, but it's still not there yet?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I say, I'm here and they're there, and they're doing their job.

Q What is the U.S. government's assessment of how much torture goes on in Turkey?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think again, I think the best thing to do is to refer you to our human rights report, which is a very comprehensive and a very good report. And it's got the best -- I would just refer you to our human rights report.

Q There were -- there are apparently beatings today at an anti-American demonstration here in Ankara. Does that sort of thing concern you, given the President's expressions of -- or his calls for greater human rights expression?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I haven't seen that report. I know there was a demonstration of 100 people, I saw that on the wire.

You know, I think what President Clinton said both at Parliament and in his statement to the press at the end of Mr. Demirel's meeting, is that we want to enhance Turkey's democracy.

Q Yes, well, did they talk about the Blue Stream project, you know, that the U.S. government is -- on that project. So I was wondering whether this has come up during the talks?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Blue Stream wasn't talked about directly. However, they did talk about the trans-Caspian project, and President Demirel expressed his strong support for that project, and his hope that we'd be able to take an important step forward this week, or in the weeks ahead.


END 6:54 P.M. (L)


President and First Lady | Vice President and Mrs. Gore
Record of Progress | The Briefing Room
Gateway to Government | Contacting the White House
White House for Kids | White House History
White House Tours | Help | Text Only

Privacy Statement

Europe 1999 Briefings: November 12-17

Briefing by National Security Advisor Samuel Berger

Briefing on Caspian Sea Diplomacy and the Baku-Ceyhan Pipeline

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Joe Lockhart

Remarks by Lynn Thomas

Remarks to the Press Pool by Valerie Guarnieri

Briefing by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Joe Lockhart

Briefing on President's State Visit to Turkey

Press Briefing by National Security Advisor Samuel Berger

Press Briefing on the President's Trip to Europe