FOREIGN MINISTER DAVUTOGLU: I will speak in Turkish.
(Via interpreter) Distinguished members of the press, U.S. Secretary of State, Mr. John Kerry, is once again with us, while second time in a row in a period of a month, and it gives me great pleasure and an honor to be (inaudible) again. And I would like to welcome him once again, along with his (inaudible) delegation.
As you are aware of the fact that between U.S. and Turkey, we have been enjoying very well-rooted strategic partnership relations, and especially after Obama took over the office, this partnership has been defined as a model partnership, and we are getting closer to one another with regards to regional problems and global problems. And we are exchanging information and opinions on a continuous basis.
The most vivid reflection of those relations is that the ministries of foreign affairs of both countries get together on a continuous basis very frequently, and we have telephone contacts almost twice a week. Because this is the turn of the tide and history's very powerfully writing its own story. And both of the ministries feel the need to contact continuously and frequently regarding the developments on a global scale, and it gives us a great opportunity to contribute to the solution of global problems. And in his last visit to Ankara, we've had the opportunity to discuss regional problems with the Secretary of State of the United States of America, and we've managed to cover a great distance forward, especially on Israel and other regional problems while we were on the phone with Mr. Kerry.
Mr. Kerry and Mr. Obama had direct support in terms of solving the problems between Israel and Turkey, and these are striking examples as to the close relations between the two countries. In the last one month, there have been recent developments in our region and Middle East. After the visit paid to the Middle East by Mr. Kerry and Mr. Obama, different approaches have emerged. All throughout our telephone correspondences, we've had the opportunity to tackle with these issues over and over again, and we agree on our findings. And Mr. Kerry this morning paid a very pleasing visit to us, and in terms of the steps to be taken forward to reach a solution based on a two-state existence. And we've had the chance to speak to Mr. Meshaal on the Palestinian problem. And Mr. Kerry will go to Israel and Palestine after Istanbul, and within the framework that we had agreed upon previously, contacts shall be established. His thoughts were conveyed to us very kindly this morning. And after the meeting in Qatar with Abbas, I've cultivated certain impressions and I've shared those impressions with Mr. Kerry. And I hope and pray that the two-state solution, and going back to the borders of 1967 on Israel and Palestine question, a new process will be initiated. And I hope that this process will not only be a process -- it will not be confined to a process only. It will become a diplomatic event, which is going to be a solution-oriented one.
Turkey will provide all forms of support within her capabilities, and we will try to contribute to the solution process. Primarily with Mr. Kerry and with every higher echelon in the United States, our contacts will continue. His Excellency, the Prime Minister of Turkey, will pay a visit to Washington very soon, and within the framework of that visit, all of these issues will be tackled with. We will move on to the Prime Minister's office in a couple of moments after the press release.
And we had discussed the Syrian question, as it was expected from us, and in a very short period of time, the Friends of Syria will have a core meeting on which we had agreed with Secretary of State. We will initiate the preparations thereof, because March had been the bloodiest month in the last two years. 7,000 Syrians have lost their lives. The international community is hesitant, and so long as that continues, Bashar Assad receives or perceives the situation as a fragility, and moving on to becoming much more violent.
The approach and the attitude of the U.S. is very significant in that regard, and Turkey, as a neighboring country to Syria, will have to play a significant role. In the last Arab League meeting, we had certain impressions which we shared with Mr. Kerry, and we agreed upon the necessity to organize a core meeting of the Friends of Syria Group. So we had managed to review the next steps to be taken forward. And of course, we discussed the Iraqi question, which is a common area of interest, around the territorial integrity of Iraq, based on the joint sharing of the resources and sharing of the power. This peaceful dialogue mechanism is a necessity for Iraq. Territorial integrity of Iraq is a fundamental question, but the way the government is structured in Iraq should encompass all the stakeholders with a very democratic environment. And our contacts shall continue in that regard as well.
We've had the chance to tackle with the Cyprus question. We've always been talking about the Cyprus question when we were on the phone with Mr. Kerry, and as a result of the elections held in the northern part of Cyprus, there are certain opportunities signaling, and we have to make the utmost use of the opportunities that reveal themselves. It is time to set our foot forward for a sustainable peace between the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots, and that balance will have a great positive impact on the relations between the Turks and the Greeks. Primarily, the NATO relations and within the Atlantic axis, we will heave a sigh of relief if those relations will improve. And we expect the United States to take up a close interest in those discussions. And Secretary of State believes as well that there is an opportunity window which is revealing itself right now, and we will keep on working on those issues.
We've spoken about the balances in Caucasia, in Somalia, in Myanmar, in Mali, and we will keep on talking about these issues in the days to come. The Turkish and Armenian relations are of crucial importance, which need a much more comprehensive approach to be initiated. The Minsk process should be provided with an ever-increasing momentum, and the invaded territory of Azerbaijan is an issue that we need certain advancement within. So we will keep on touching on those issues in the future.
So I would like to welcome Mr. Kerry, my dear friend, once again to Istanbul. Istanbul is a city that is referred to by Mr. Kerry on a continuous basis, so we're looking forward to having you back here. Welcome again, Mr. Kerry, and now the floor is yours.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much, Mr. Prime Minister and my friend Ahmet. I really appreciate your welcome enormously. It's wonderful to be here in this extraordinary --
PARTICIPANT: The microphone.
SECRETARY KERRY: I beg your pardon?
PARTICIPANT: The microphone's not turned on.
SECRETARY KERRY: Oh, that would make a difference. (Laughter.)
FOREIGN MINISTER DAVUTOGLU: Your voice is clear, but for translation -- (laughter) --
SECRETARY KERRY: That sounds a little more resounding. Thank you. Thank you very much, Mr. Minister.
So let me begin again. Now, it's a great privilege for me to be able to be here in Istanbul, this remarkable, historic city, in a country, Turkey, that is moving at such an amazing pace and accomplishing so much. And we talked about that briefly today, what a great partner Turkey is and has been, as we define, really, a new world in which we face an extraordinary number of new challenges. So, Mr. Foreign Minister, thank you for your continual generous welcome here, and you are right. We are talking frequently, maybe twice a week or so, and I think it's having a benefit, and I'm grateful to you for the work that you and your Prime Minister did so that President Obama could complete his mission when he was visiting in Israel. I think that was a very important step forward, and we thank you for those efforts. And we look forward, obviously, to the completing of that mission.
Mr. Minister, as I think you know, this has been a difficult 24 hours for those of us in the United States, and particularly for the family of the State Department. Yesterday, we lost a very bright and brave young woman, a young diplomat. We lost her to a horrific attack in Afghanistan. And today, our hearts are broken. Anne Smedinghoff was 25 years old, Mr. Foreign Minister, and I think that in this tragedy, there is a stark contrast for all of the world to see between two very different sets of values.
On the one hand, you have Anne, a selfless, idealistic young woman who woke up yesterday morning and set out to bring textbooks to schoolchildren, to bring them knowledge, children she had never met, to help them to be able to build a future. And Anne and those with her were attacked by Taliban terrorists who woke up that day not with a mission to educate or to help, but with a mission to destroy. A brave American was determined to brighten the light of learning through books written in the native tongue of the students that she had never met, but whom she felt compelled to help. And she was met by cowardly terrorists determined to bring darkness and death to total strangers.
These are the challenges that our citizens face, not just in Afghanistan but in many dangerous parts of the world, where a nihilism, an empty approach, is willing to take life rather than give it. What did that terrorist accomplish? What did his cowardice and his nihilism buy him? The grief of parents who now have to bury their children. It also brought the strengthened resolve of a nation, a diplomatic corps, a military, all resources determined to continue the hard work of helping people to help themselves.
So yesterday, we saw the vilest form of terrorism, but as I hope the world will have learned by now, and if it hasn't, it will over time, America does not and will not cower before terrorism. We are going to forge on, we're going to step up, we're going to continue to do the work that we do to try to improve the lives of other people. We put ourselves in harm's way because we believe in bringing hope to our brothers and sisters all over the world, knowing that we share universal human values with people all over the world of dignity, of opportunity, of progress.
So it is now up to us to determine what the legacy of this tragedy will be. And where others seek to destroy, we intend to show a stronger determination in order to brighten our shared future, even when others try to darken it with violence. That was Anne's mission when she woke up yesterday morning, and it will be ours every single day from this morning through the next as long as God gives us the ability to make that choice.
So I want to emphasize that Anne was everything that is right about our Foreign Service. She was smart and capable, committed to our country. I had the privilege of meeting her, Mr. Foreign Minister, just a few days ago. When I was in Afghanistan, she was part of my team. And she was someone who worked hard and put her life on the line so that others could live a better life. Our hearts go out to Anne's mother and father, with whom I spoke yesterday, and to the two sisters and the brother who survive her, to her friends and colleagues at home in Chicago, in Caracas where she served her first tour of duty in the Foreign Service, and in Kabul as well as around the world. And we also express our sadness and our condolences to every member of the United States Department of State with whom I am today privileged to work and call colleagues.
Mr. Foreign Minister, thank you for allowing me the privilege of saying a few words about this remarkable young woman, but she is, I think, at the center of the work that you do, the work that I do, and we all try to do to provide people with peace and with opportunity. Together, Mr. Foreign Minister, you have mentioned today how Turkey and the United States are committed to tackling very difficult issues. And that is why I have returned to Turkey, some would say so soon, but really, not so soon, because the cause of peace cannot be addressed fast enough. Too much time has gone by where too many people have been dislocated in Syria, in the Middle East. And the challenges are real, and our nations have an opportunity to be able to cooperate in a unique way, and I thank you on behalf of Mr. -- President Obama and the American people for the extraordinary cooperation that Turkey is offering.
Today, the Foreign Minister and I discussed our work to combat terrorism in all its forms, including yesterday's attack, and also the violence that has plagued Turkey for three long decades. We applaud, we admire the work of the Turkish Government to peacefully try to end the violence that has sometimes struck it internally. And I think that all of us join in welcoming the PKK's commitment to lay down their arms, and we salute the work of you, Mr. Foreign Minister, and the Prime Minister, in your efforts to bring that about. It has been the best of diplomacy and of leadership.
As we know, no peace process is easy. It always takes courage and determination, the willingness to speak out to overcome years of mistrust and of bloodshed, and this moment is no different. Difficult steps lie ahead, but the Foreign Minister and I are confident that a lasting peace will improve the lives of all of Turkey's citizens and that we can have an impact on the lives of other people here in this region. The redrafting of Turkey's constitution is indeed a prime opportunity to lay the groundwork for that shared future. And I reiterated to the Foreign Minister our hope that the protection of universal rights and basic freedoms will be at the center of this process, as he has expressed to me so many times, and our hope that the constitution will respect and reflect this country's remarkable diversity, which is part of its great strength.
The Foreign Minister and I, as he mentioned, did indeed talk about Syria. And I thanked the Foreign Minister for the constant pressure that the Government of Turkey has placed on the Assad regime, which, as we both have said repeatedly, must go. Turkey has also been incredibly generous to the refugees of this crisis, and they have taken them in by the thousands, kept their borders open, done everything possible to try to respond to that increasing humanitarian crisis. And the United States and Turkey will continue cooperating towards the shared goal of a peaceful transition within Syria.
Finally, and let me just say, we did agree and we look forward to a meeting of the Syria core group in the near term in order to review what we discussed here today, but also to try to coordinate more effectively the approach to the challenges of that particular issue. I reiterated today how much President Obama and I are grateful for their leadership in bringing about the telephone call between Prime Minister Erdogan and Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama. Turkey and Israel are both vital allies of the United States. And we are hopeful that their agreement to restore normalization between their countries will actually help to open the door to greater cooperation so that we can, all of us, work together to promote peace and to be part of the peace process that the Foreign Minister referred to.
So once again, Mr. Foreign Minister, thank you for having me here and welcoming me at this difficult moment. I look forward to continuing to work with you and to strengthening our relationship. We're grateful for your creative diplomacy, for your energetic diplomacy, and we are very, very grateful, as I said previously, for the vision that you have expressed about the road ahead and the things we can do together to work on all of these critical issues. And I'll look forward to continuing that work with you. Thank you.
FOREIGN MINISTER DAVUTOGLU: (Via interpreter) I would like to take another moment before the questions. First of all, I wanted Mr. Kerry to mention it first so that I could take the floor and mention, on behalf of Turkey, on behalf of the people of Turkey, we would like to extend our deepest condolences for the loss of Anne Smedinghoff in Afghanistan. We would like to extend our deepest condolences to her family and to the State Department of the U.S. She was a very young and a promising diplomat. The U.S. has lost many diplomats in the light of such horrific attacks, and the Turkish diplomats have lost their lives in the aftermath of such vile attacks. And we are very much familiar with this disaster. We were very happy to host you here this morning, but we were very, very upset because of the developments of yesterday, ending in the loss of Anne Smedinghoff. I would like to extend my deepest condolences to her family and to the people of the United States. We shall always remain against terror, and we will always force the strongest ever possible solidarity in fighting against terrorism. I just wanted to reiterate this fact. Thank you.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you, Mr. Minister, very, very much. I know the American people appreciate that.
MODERATOR: We'll take one question from the U.S. side. Arshad Mohammed, Reuters.
QUESTION: Secretary Kerry, what exact steps do you want to see Turkey and Israel take to achieve the normalization to which they are committed to? Do you have a specific timeline in mind? Do you want to see things done before Prime Minister Erdogan comes to Washington next month? Are you troubled by the somewhat triumphalist tone that has been taken in Turkey after the agreement, the billboard posters of a downcast Prime Minister Netanyahu looking at the ground?
And on the Almaty talks, do you see -- given that Catherine Ashton says there's been no narrowing of the gaps, you're still far apart, do you see any point in continuing the conversation, particularly ahead of the Iranian elections?
SECRETARY KERRY: Let me answer the second part of the question first, and then come back. With respect to Almaty, Lady Cathy Ashton and Under Secretary Wendy Sherman have made it clear that there was somewhat of a gap that remains, obviously, as a consequence of the discussions that they had in Almaty. And I think that we would hope that we might have been able to move that somewhat closer. But the door is still open to doing that, and yes indeed it is important to continue to talk and to try to find the common ground.
I think the President has made it clear, and I would reiterate today, that this is not an endless process. This is not something where you can play to the clock. You can't just delay and talk for the sake of talking. So we would repeat to Iran it is our desire to have a diplomatic solution, but this choice really lies in the hands of Iranians. If you have a peaceful program for nuclear power, as a number of nations do, it is not hard to prove to the world that it is peaceful. Those other nations do that today.
The reason that Iran is increasingly finding itself isolated and in a position of being sanctioned is because they have chosen -- they have chosen -- not to live up to the international requirements and standards with respect to verification about their program. And the international community -- not the United States, not a religion, not one particular philosophy, but countries under the United Nations and through the international community have come together and asked Iran, if your program is peaceful, please take the steps that are rational in order to prove it to the world. Now, that's what we're waiting for.
But as I said earlier and repeat again, this is not an interminable process. So we hope that out of Almaty will come a narrowing of some of the differences. Diplomacy is a painful task, and a task for the patient. And you need to take the time to work through some of these things. Obviously, there is an election. That complicates the choices with respect to the politics of Iran. And we're aware of that. But we will continue, the President is determined to continue to pursue the diplomatic channel. We will continue to have discussions through the P5+1 process. And we remain open and hopeful that a diplomatic solution can be found.
Now, with respect to the Israel-Turkey track, it is not for the United States to be setting conditions or terms with respect to what the Prime Minister's schedule ought to be or what the requirements of Turkey are with respect to that process. We have said, and we say again, we would like to see this relationship that is important to stability in the Middle East, critical to the peace process itself, we would like to see this relationship get back on track in its full measure. To be back on track in its full measure, it is imperative that the compensation component of the agreement be fulfilled, that the ambassadors be returned, and that full relationship be embraced. But it's not up to us to discuss the timing; that's up to the parties themselves. There's going to be a meeting shortly, and I'm confident that there will be goodwill on both sides.
The Foreign Minister has expressed to me very clearly in response to an inquiry by me that they have taken steps to try to prevent any kind of sense of triumphalism. It has not come from the government. In fact, there has been limited response by the government itself, and I think it's important for everybody to take note of that. I think the Government of Turkey has responded sensitively and thoughtfully to this, and they would like to see -- and I'll let the Foreign Minister -- obviously, he will speak for himself -- they would like to see this process as the building block that they worked hard, incidentally. Foreign Minister Davutoglu and I worked hard together to try to make sure that this was something that could take place. And the President and the Prime Minister, the President of the United States, the Prime Minister of Turkey, and the Prime Minister of Israel all came together and engaged in this phone call for a purpose.
Now, if one or two people or a few people break out and make comments, that should not cloud the overall benefit and courage which accompanied the choices that were made on both sides with respect to this issue. And it's my hope that people will keep their eyes on the bigger goal, which is the relationship, the possibilities of peace, and putting the past into the past. Now, for the families, I would say to them we know what it's like to have lost people in any kind of situation where you think somehow it was wrongful. And we have ways of dealing with that. The government is working hard in order to address that. Our sympathies go to those families, and we hope that in the days ahead, that this issue can be appropriately resolved and put behind us so that we can move forward to the larger strategic challenges that we face.
FOREIGN MINISTER DAVUTOGLU: (Via interpreter) And I would like to briefly elaborate on that if you will allow me. First and foremost, President Obama and Secretary Kerry had paid significant contributions to the surmounting of those challenges, and that was a time when there was very intensive diplomatic traffic through telephone correspondences or through direct contacts in a moment where everybody is in despair. Certain developments had been created.
And everybody should be aware of one fact in this day and age. In flotilla, we lived through a painful incident, and this incident has to be compensated. And it's about all the stakeholders being very careful at that regard. I've spoken to the members of those families, and I have seen throughout my contacts that pain was still very much prevailing, and deep traces were left behind in the hearts of those family members. What matters most as of now is to remain very rational, but take forward very principled steps, and focus on the three preconditions and cultivate a certain advancement.
Apology is now behind us. We will keep on talking about the prospective compensation, and psychologically, we need to be very much careful. And Turkey doesn't need any financial support in terms of the compensations, but there is an offense that has been committed, and it has to be tied to accountability, and it has to be dealt with within the accountability frameworks, and the embargoes should be eliminated right after that in order to fulfill the mutual commitments. And in Israel, in West Bank, and in Gaza, the living standards should be improved, and all of the embargoes should be eliminated once and for all.
President Obama and Secretary Kerry both have been leading a peace process within the Middle East, and all of those steps will only support that process and that policy. In the psychological environment, certain different ways of perceiving the situation might arise. There might be certain different comments, certain interpretations which are only natural. But at the end of the day, Turkey has followed a very intensive diplomacy based on principles, and that diplomacy shall continue in the future. And I hope and pray that the remaining processes will be concluded in the healthiest fashion possible, whereby all of the parties will have a very constructive approach towards one another, taking a step forward. And I would like to thank Secretary Kerry and President Obama for their very valuable contributions in that regard.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) CNN Turk, I would like to ask a question. Handi Dashi from CNN Turk.
Both the Minister and Mr. Secretary can answer this question. (Inaudible) understand that Turkey's getting ready to play a more active role in the Middle East peace process. I was wondering if there's any specific proposal for what Turkey's contribution could be, especially regarding maybe bringing Hamas in line with international expectations.
And in that vein, Mr. Secretary, do you see Prime Minister Erdogan's visits -- or planned visit to Gaza, plans to visit Gaza, as a looming crisis? That seems to be suggested by certain media outlets in Israel and also in the United States.
And if I can briefly ask a question on Syria, we understand from certain press reports that there are plans to maybe establish buffer zones on the Jordanian-Syrian border, on the Syrian side of the border. Is there similar discussion regarding the north of Syria -- south of Turkey, north of Syria? Thank you.
SECRETARY KERRY: Okay. Let me handle the second part of that first, as I did earlier. With respect to Syria, I'm not going to discuss military strategy or plans that we're not making, or I'm not aware of. I've heard speculation. I hear a lot of discussion about different things like that. I'd just say to you that Foreign Minister Davutoglu and I had a very precise and clear discussion about some of the things that need to happen with respect to creating the climate for a transition from the Assad regime to the future. And we are both committed, our countries are committed, our leaders are committed, President Obama, Prime Minister Erdogan, to effecting that transition. And we're going to look for the most effective ways to try to bring it about with the least violence and the most rapid transition because this is having a profound impact on the humanitarian situation, the loss of life within the country, and the refugees who are now in Lebanon, Turkey, and in Jordan.
So it is our hope that over the next weeks, there will be greater clarity. I'm leaving from the Middle East after I leave here and go to Israel. I'll be going to London for the ministerial meeting, and we will be there having some discussions about Syria. And then subsequently, the Foreign Minister and I have agreed in principle on a timing somewhere soon of a core group meeting in order to follow up on that, and to focus in on what the options may be.
So I think we need to let that process work through. But suffice it to say that none of us have lost any clarity to our resolve with respect to the need to increase the pressure so that President Assad's calculation changes, and so that hopefully, the real goal, which is a peaceful transition, could in fact be effected. Now, that may not be possible, but if it is not, we certainly are not going to stand by and allow him to continue to do to the people of Syria what he has been doing.
With respect to Turkey's role in the peace process, we did have a discussion -- and I'm now late to get to further discussion with the Prime Minister, and I apologize to him that we're running late -- Turkey can be a key -- an important contributor to the process of peace in so many ways. It has already contributed, just through the decision that has been made to move to resolve the issue of the flotilla and to move beyond the apology to the compensation and to the next steps. That's important first steps.
But subsequent to that, you heard the Foreign Minister talk a moment ago about the need to deal with the economics. The West Bank, Gaza together, both need to transform. Now, obviously, it's more complicated to deal with Gaza than the West Bank for all the obvious reasons, but Turkey can be very helpful, perhaps, in transitioning that component of the process, as well as in helping to build on our efforts to transform the economics of the West Bank itself. And I may have more to say about that after I have been in the discussions I have coming up in the next couple of days.
But Turkey can be very, very central not only to the on-the-ground transformation, but also to helping to create the climate for peace within the community of nations. Turkey's voice is vital, and the leadership that the Prime Minister has shown with respect to the PKK, his leadership that he also has the ability to show with respect to the peace process. And so I think in many, many respects, the country, as strong and as vibrant, as energized and as transformative as Turkey can have a profound impact by being a partner in this process.
FOREIGN MINISTER DAVUTOGLU: (Via interpreter) Turkey's role in the Middle Eastern peace process, especially when the region is going through as such a huge transformation is quite visible. Turkey has always been a part of the region, respecting the honor and the fundamental rights and the liberties of the people living in the region, where everybody's right to life is secured, and within very secure borders of Palestine. Reaching its freedom, going back to 1967 borders, has always been an ideal supported by the Republic of Turkey, and we shall always continue doing that. If there's going to be a new order within the Middle East, one of the indispensible fragments of that is going to come to a Palestine state emerging on these circumstances. The two-state solution oriented process will have the eventual goal of establishing the foundations of such a new order.
Turkey is (inaudible) its relations with the Palestinian part, and on the other hand, with all of the international actors, along with the United States of America, we have been in close contacts. And from this moment on, whether it be the direct negotiations underway, whether it be the initiation of another peace process, we will always cater to the needs and the expectations of the international community to make sure peace will prevail.
Going back to the borders of 1967 and the emergence of a Palestinian state under livable conditions, what we're looking for, when that happens -- and that's our common vision with the United States of America, having a two-state solution -- with the general transformation of the region through the strengthening of the democracies in the region, political dialogue, mutual respect, economic interaction will be possible in the region, plus economic interdependency based on multiculturalism and diversity. That is going to be the new Middle East, and that should be our joint objective. And within the framework of this vision, we shall always continue working towards a more brilliant future.
And the prospective visit of the Prime Minister of Turkey to Gaza is a part, a complementary part, of that vision. The visit to Gaza by the Prime Minister of Turkey, plus the new momentum in the region and the processes that will be initiated in the future, are not destructive to one another. They are complementary. They are not the alternatives to one another. They are complementary, in the end of which make sure that Palestine will become a livable state.
My dear friend Kerry mentioned certain aspects of the Syrian question. I only can reiterate them and agree upon them. We -- there had always been a close exchange of information and contact between the stakeholders of this question with the Arab League, with the neighboring countries of the region, and with the United States of America. And in the last summit organized within the Arab League, we had talked about these aspects. And the core group meeting will be conducted with the eventual goal of making sure that a pluralist democratic structure will be allowed to emerge, where Syria can stand on its own two feet. This transition should be provided, and in order for that to be possible, Turkey has contributed tremendously, and shall continue doing that. Thank you.