Friday, September 21, 2007

Interview With Murat Akgun of NTV R. Nicholas Burns, Under Secretary for Political Affairs

Ankara, Turkey
September 20, 2007
QUESTION: Mr. Burns, good morning and welcome to the NTV studio.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Thank you very much.

QUESTION: It's not a secret that the Turkish public is expecting a step or steps from the United States of America against the PKK as soon as possible, especially in northern Iraq. Do you think that we can see such steps in northern Iraq in the short term?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: We are Turkey's greatest supporter on the PKK. We are against the PKK; we classify it as a terrorist organization; we do not give it any support; and we entirely sympathize with the Turkish people, the Turkish government. There was just an attack two days ago. A soldier was killed here in Turkey and I believe over 150 people have been killed this year by the PKK alone. And so we've got to work with Turkey and we want to work with Turkey to try to end this threat. Part of the answer will be working with the Iraqi leadership, specifically the Kurdish leadership in northern Iraq, to try to get them to give political support to the effort to stop the PKK. But we support Turkey entirely on this issue.

QUESTION: Last week there was a question to you from a journalist in Washington, if I'm not wrong. The question was can we see a step or steps from the US against the PKK in the next six months and then you said I believe so. If this is the correct answer as I remember it, what are you waiting for for some steps, especially in the military field in northern Iraq?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, I think that the imperative here is two steps. First is to isolate the PKK diplomatically, convince the European countries not to allow the PKK to establish political front organizations in European capitals and is to brand the PKK and castigate it internationally as a terrorist organization. We the United States have contributed to that goal with Turkey, working with the Turkish government, and will continue that. The second is -- are there concrete measures that can be taken to protect the Turkish people and to protect the Turkish military from cross-border attacks? We are working with the Turkish government and the Iraqi government to try to create that environment where the PKK will no longer be able to attack. So we want to be helpful and we’re working with the Turkish government towards that end.

QUESTION: Are we still in the first step, Mr. Burns?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: No, I think we've…we’ve been in the first step for ten years. We are in both the first and second phases. And both of them are important.

QUESTION: You were talking about cooperation between Iraqi authorities and Turkey and especially Kurdish leadership and Turkey, but now there are two important questions. First, Iraqi authorities have no power everywhere in the country and second, the Kurdish leadership do not even qualify PKK as a terrorist organization. In this case, what kind of cooperation do you expect between Turks and Kurds?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, I think there has to be political dialogue, frankly, with the Iraqi leadership and the Turkish government and the two have to talk. Hopefully the Turkish government and the United States government can convince the Iraqi leadership that this particular organization is a violent organization, it doesn't deserve to have any political support whatsoever, and it has to be kept away from the border areas with Turkey so that it cannot launch its strikes across the border. That is primarily a political question. So discussions are important. The United States can help to facilitate these discussions. We have our own discussions with the Iraqi government. I know that Prime Minister Maliki was here in Ankara just a couple of months ago. I know that he said some very critical things about the PKK when he was here and it was good to see that.

QUESTION: But on the other hand, during the visit of Mr. Maliki we couldn't even succeed to sign an agreement concerning the fight against terrorism.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, there's no question that Turkey deserves help from the United States. We are your ally. We are your friend. As a victim of terrorism, and we are a victim of terrorism, we sympathize entirely with the Turkish people and Turkish government so you should consider us your closest collaborator in this fight against the PKK.

QUESTION: When you say that the United States of America is also the victim of terrorism, I just remembered the statement of the Prime Minister of Turkey the day before yesterday. He said that even the Pentagon could not handle the terrorism. How do you evaluate this remark?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, I think that first of all I had a very good meeting with Prime Minister Erdogan yesterday and I think that we, all of us, realize that the fight against terrorism is not going to be easy, that there are times when we'll have successes and there will be times when we'll have setbacks, but we've got to have a consistent effort. And it had to be universal. It has to be all democratic countries working together so in that respect I think there's a great connection between Turkey and the United States because we both need to struggle against terrorism, which is affecting both of our peoples.

QUESTION: Well, there's a discussion among the public in Turkey whether Turkish armed forces should make an operation into northern Iraq or not, if there is not enough cooperation between the Iraqi Kurdish leadership and Iraqi central authorities and Turkey. Do you think that it's going to be a legitimate right of Turkey to make an operation against PKK targets?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: We hope there will be adequate consultations and cooperation with the Iraqi government that will make it unnecessary for Turkey to take such an action. Obviously Iraq is a country that has experienced incredible trauma over the last four and a half years. We don't want to see anything develop that would further destabilize Iraq and so our vast preference would be to see the kind of trilateral cooperation among Iraq, Turkey and the United States that will make such an operation not necessary. And that's the goal of our policy.

QUESTION: I will have one more question concerning Iraq. There are press reports that the United States of America will withdraw forces from Iraq next year more and more and according to the same reports the Washington administration would like to use some harbors and bases in Turkey. During your visit to Ankara did you have any specific request concerning this issue to the Turkish authorities?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I didn’t have…I did not have any specific request to the Turkish authorities and I can just tell you that President Bush spoke last week, a week ago, about our policy in Iraq. He was very clear that the United States will maintain our military forces in Iraq and that we intend to be successful there.

QUESTION: Iraq is not the only issue in the Middle East or among our neighbors. I would like to ask a question about Iran. How would you evaluate the cooperation between Iran and Turkey due to the fact that they are two neighboring countries?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, first of all, we believe that Iran is a serious threat to peace. Iran is funding most of the Middle East terrorist groups and arming many of them. Iran is also trying to achieve a nuclear weapons capability. So Iran is a dangerous country. We want to work diplomatically, hopefully peacefully, with surrounding countries to try to isolate the Iranians. And, frankly, the United Nations has decided on sanctioning Iran so we are very pleased that Turkey is implementing the sanctions passed by the United Nations. We don’t believe there should be a business-as-usual attitude between any country and Iran because we need to pressure Iran economically so it will be more inclined to negotiate on this nuclear question.

QUESTION: There was very strong, hard statements from the French President and the French Foreign Minister concerning the nuclear capacity of Iran. Mr. Kouchner even mentioned the possibility of a war against Iran. Is it an option – a war between Iran and western countries or an operation of the United States of America if they do have nuclear weapons?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, there's no question in our minds that the achievement by the Iranian government in the future of a nuclear weapons capability would change the balance of power in the Middle East in a very negative way – for Turkey, for the United States, for all of the European countries – so all of us want to stop the Iranians from doing so. We have said, we Americans, that we wish to pursue diplomacy, that we wish to work with other countries to try to convince the Iranians that they need to stop. Now, one way to do that is through negotiations. We've offered negotiations with Iran. Iran had turned us down twice in the last year. We've said that we'll sit with Russia and China and the European countries, we the United States, together, talk to the Iranians and try to figure out a diplomatic way forward, but the Iranians have said no to the negotiations and they continue their nuclear research programs. That's why we've turned to sanctions, economic sanctions, at the Security Council. And we would like all countries to support those sanctions.

QUESTION: Do you still believe that there is risk of war in the area because of the nuclear capacity of Iran in the short term or mid-term?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, we hope very much to prevent a war. We hope very much that through a tough-minded policy of leverage of sanctions against Iran the Iranians will understand they are isolated in the world. Name the countries that support Iran in this quest for nuclear weapons – maybe Syria, maybe North Korea, maybe Belarus, maybe Cuba. There are very few countries supporting Iran in its quest for nuclear weapons in terms of its political aspirations. But most of the countries of the world are arrayed against Iran and advocating that Iran stop its nuclear weapons development and so it's important that Iran listen to the voice of the international community and understand how isolated it is.

QUESTION: A question about Syria – there was serious tension between Israel and Syria in recent days. There was a protest from the Turkish government to Israel. What kind of role may Turkey have concerning the tension between Israel and Syria and in general concerning the Middle East process, including the peace conference at the end of next month in Istanbul?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well I think in general Turkey is a unique country in the Middle East and has influence in the Middle East because Turkey can talk to nearly everyone and we appreciate the fact that Turkey has a good relationship with Israel. We appreciate the fact that Turkey is so close to some of the moderate Arab states. In the case of Syria and Iran, both of those countries are supporting terrorism and both of them are supporting Hezbollah which is a negative influence in the region and so we appreciate the fact that Turkey is a country that can send strong messages and communicate with countries to try to convince them to turn away in the case of Iran from a nuclear weapons program, in the case of Syria, from its support for terrorism.

QUESTION: About Cyrus, there were elections in Turkey and Greece and now we're going to have elections in the Greek part of Cyprus by the beginning of next year. What's going to happen? Do you see the chance of the development of a permanent solution at the end of 2008 in Cyprus?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: We hope there can be progress in Cyprus. It's been far too long. It’s been so many decades where there has been no peace in Cyprus…

QUESTION: I'm asking about a solution…

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, we believe that the United Nations should restart its effort to find a peaceful solution and a just solution to the problem of Cyprus. The United States of course will be involved in this, as will Turkey, as will Greece and many other countries. We think it's very, very important that there be progress this year if that's possible. Now we know that Mr. Papadopoulos and Mr. Talat met recently. I don’t know if that meeting produced many positive results. I had very good discussions here in Ankara with the Turkish authorities. We are working with Turkey; we are working with Greece; and I look forward to meeting the Cypriot leader, President Papadopoulos, as well as Mr. Talat to see if we can push this process forward.

QUESTION: Last question concerning Turkish-Armenia relations. We know that the Washington administration wants Turkey to take some steps to normalization relations between the two countries but how about the Armenian responsibility? Don't you think that Armenia should also do something? For example withdraw its forces from Azerbaijan's occupied territory?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: We have been concerned to see that since 1991 there has been no normalization of relations between Turkey and Armenia. Turkey is an ally; Armenia is a friend. So we wish to see progress there. Obviously this is up to the two countries to work out and it’s going to be a two-way street as any relationship is in international diplomacy but our hope would be that there could be a normalization of relations between Turkey and Armenia, that the border could be opened, there could be normal commerce and trade and a peaceful relationship. That may take some time, it may be difficult, but it's a necessary step in our view. And we hope to see the same kind of changes here within Turkey that will make this a place where minorities such as the Armenian population can live here in a peaceful way and contribute to Turkish society.

QUESTION: Mr. Burns, thank you very much for answering my questions.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: It's a pleasure. Thank you very much.

Released on September 20, 2007

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.

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