The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
June 27, 2004

Background Briefing by a Senior Administration Official on the President's Trip to Turkey
Conrad Istanbul
Istanbul, Turkey

7:10 P.M. (Local)

MR. McCLELLAN: We've got a background briefing here with a senior administration official, who will walk you through some of the meetings earlier today, as well as give you a look ahead to the NATO summit. And with that, I will turn it over to our senior administration official.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Good evening, everyone. I'll walk through the meetings in Ankara today, and a couple in Istanbul this afternoon. And then I'll give you a preview of the events tomorrow. I may be joined by another colleague a little bit later who can give more detail about the NATO meetings.

The President today saw Prime Minister Erdogan and President Sezer of Turkey. These were two separate meetings, followed by a lunch in which President Sezer and Prime Minister Erdogan were both present.

He then -- we then arrived in Istanbul, where the President met with a group of Turkish religious leaders, both the Turkish government head of the -- basically, the minister for religious affairs, an Istanbul Islamic cleric, the senior rabbi of Istanbul, the head of the Syriac, head of the Armenian churches, and of course, most -- of great importance, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who is first among equals among Eastern Orthodox churches in the world.

That was followed by a meeting between the President and NATO Secretary General de Hoop Scheffer, which is the first of the President's NATO events.

I'd like to characterize a little bit the discussions with the Turks today. These were very good meetings. They were held against the background of the very intense period we went through with Turkey, starting in late 1992, and of course, you all remember the issue of Iraq which came up. There was a Turkish vote not to allow U.S. troops to pass through Turkey. Later there was a vote in the Parliament, in the Turkish Parliament, to offer Turkish troops for Iraq, but by that time the Iraqi Governing Council was not interested in having Turkish troops there. So there were, in the end, no Turkish troops. There was a lot of back-and-forth between the United States and Turkey in the past.

These meetings today made clear that whatever the differences U.S. and Turkish governments had over Iraq, from this point forward -- and both the Turkish President and the Turkish Prime Minister in their meetings made this clear -- from this moment forward, Turkey sees its interests and the American interests in Iraq as parallel and consistent. That is, the Turks made clear that they want a stable, successful Iraq, at peace with itself, at peace with its neighbors, an Iraq that is democratizing, an Iraq that respects minorities. Turks made this clear.

The Turks -- of course, the Turks and the Turkish leaders and the President discussed issues such as the territorial integrity of Iraq. And the President made clear that this is something of critical importance to the United States.

They discussed Kurdish issues. The Turks made clear their concern about PKK activities -- PKK is, as you know, a terrorist organization which has operated against Turks for a number of years. There are PKK -- PKK does operate out of Iraq, and we made it clear that we consider the PKK a terrorist organization, and want to work with Turkey to eliminate the threat of terrorism and the danger to Turkey that it represents.

The leaders also talked about Cyprus, and the President expressed his thanks to Turkey for its extraordinarily constructive and creative attitude, which almost -- which brought us closer to a Cyprus settlement than we have been in the 40 -- in the 30 years since the division of the island in 1974. This was a very near thing. The U.N. came up with a very good plan that Kofi Annan managed. Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot community supported it. The Greek Cypriot community did not. But Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots did a lot to advance this process. The President expressed both his determination to work with all the parties to try to achieve a settlement on the basis of the Annan plan, but also expressed his real gratitude to Turkey for what it had done and made clear that, in accordance with the U.N. recommendations, that Turkish Cypriots no longer be subject to isolation, that they have really done what the world asked -- what the international community, what the world asked of them, and this needs to be recognized.

The leaders also talked about the broader Middle East, and of course Turkey's Prime Minister Erdogan had gone to Sea Island, to weigh in in support of this initiative. Turkey is a secular democracy with a majority Muslim population, and a history of tolerance. It is a successful democracy. It is rapidly reforming itself to meet the standards for EU accession. And in this way, although it is not, strictly speaking, a model for countries of the broader Middle East, it is certainly an example of what secular democracy -- how secular democracy can flourish. And it is an example of the compatibility of Islam and democracy, which was the title of a conference a few months ago in this city. So they discussed their common vision of the need to support reform and reformers in the broader Middle East.

I'll say a word about the President's meeting with religious leaders, but I must start with a confession. Due to motorcade issues, some of us were enjoying a wonderful tour of historic Istanbul rather than actually making it to the meeting. So I can tell you about the thinking leading up to the meeting, but other than a brief characterization that it went, "very well," I can't say much more about it.

The purpose of the meeting was to point out that in a society -- in a secular but majority Muslim society like Turkey's, it's important to recognize the contribution of minority groups and minority religions, and to recognize that these people are a constituent part of -- very much of this city for centuries, and a couple of millennia, in some cases, and that this is a part of the tolerant future which we all seek.

It was a very -- I asked how the meeting went; I was told very well. I don't want to describe a meeting that I was not -- that I neither attended, nor have great details about. The President's meeting with Yaap de Hoop Scheffer was a terrific meeting, and I should say, characterizing events of tomorrow, that we are closing rapidly on a number of real strong deliverables and achievements for NATO, both long-range and short-range. And I think that colored the atmosphere of the meeting.

One more point about Turkey. I should mention that the President, of course, expressed his sympathies over the fate of the three Turkish workers that have been kidnapped and threatened with death. The President made clear that this episode demonstrates the kind of an enemy we are fighting, a totalitarian enemy which terrorizes and seeks to export chaos to the world, as well as chaos in Iraq. This is a terrible situation. There have been others like it. And the President said that it is important that the international community unite and defeat these groups and these people.

Q Is that a direct quote from him?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, that is not a direct quote. That is my miserable paraphrase.

Q That was in the meeting with --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That is the meeting -- this came up in the meeting with Sezer, and I believe -- I recall with Erdogan, as well.

Now, tomorrow, again --

Q -- do you have any kind of quote for that -- terrible situation wasn't a direct --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, that was -- I'm not giving you a direct quote.

Now, tomorrow. You may have the good fortune -- we may have the good fortune to be joined by another senior administration official who is even more well-versed than I in the details of what will happen tomorrow, but in his absence, let me go through a few of the items that you may want to look for.

We are very likely to have an agreement on a training mission in Iraq. I suspect that there will be three parts to the decision on Iraq, and three things for you to look for. One is a NATO statement on Iraq, a separate NATO statement. That statement, if it is agreed -- and again, in NATO, it isn't done until it's done, believe me -- if that statement is agreed, it will contain a positive answer to the request from Prime Minister Allawi for training, and it is possible that it will contain a second mandate for NATO to study possible further steps in support of Iraqi security. But again, look for the statement tomorrow and look for the wording on both of those things.

NATO is also likely to agree about ISAF expansion. It is very likely we will have the commitments necessary for the first stage of ISAF expansion beyond Kabul. Look also for an Istanbul declaration which in lieu of a communique. There will be a communique, but probably none of you will read it, and in terms of style, at least, I cannot say that that is a mistake. It's got lots of content, but it is, like all communiques, a difficult read. The Istanbul Declaration, however, is much shorter, and I do commend it to you on grounds of both style and substance. If it is agreed, it will be a very good summary of how NATO is changing to meet the challenge of the 21st century, which is a transformation which ought to be of considerable interest to you, because it rather definitively answers the question, well, what is NATO going to do now.

This is a question which has been asked for -- many times since the end of the Cold War, and it is very clear from this Istanbul Declaration that NATO, in fact, has come to a solid policy consensus about what its roles and missions are.

Now, I should say that all policy consensus is -- develops over time as it is realized, and so I don't want to suggest that from now on there will never be debates at NATO. Of course not. But it is important to see how far NATO has come in recognizing that its classing mission of collective defense needs to be realized in new ways to meet new challenges, that is, the challenges of the post-September 11th world. There was a tremendous debate after September 11th as to whether NATO was an appropriate instrument to take on these challenges. There were some said -- some said it was; some said it wasn't. NATO has now decided that that, indeed, is going to be its mission.

That is a tremendous achievement, and an achievement, by the way, which should be seen in light of the very difficult debates over Iraq of last year. Many journalists, reflecting a widely held, if not fully accurate belief, wrote about the end of NATO or fatal divisions in the transatlantic alliance. So when you read the Istanbul Declaration, keep this in mind.

Another achievement to look for is NATO's contribution to the broader Middle East initiative. You may recall that this initiative has generated a lot of ink, and I will indulge a pet peeve of mine -- most of that ink has been devoted to explaining why it has been watered down, cut back, vitiated or shrunk. And in fact, it was launched at Sea Island a few weeks ago in very much its original shape. The EU signed on to this initiative with a statement about reform in the broader Middle East a couple of days ago, and now NATO is going to contribute its part to this overall initiative through an outreach program to offer cooperation to the countries of the region, very much inspired in its practical aspects by the Partnership for Peace, very successfully launched 10 years ago.

Finally, NATO will mark its decision to successfully end its mission in Bosnia, which has gone on for nine years. It will be handing over that mission to the EU in what is not the first, but is the first significant test of the European -- the ESDP, the European Security and Defense Policy. This handover should take place at the end of the year. NATO will retain a small mission in Bosnia with some specialized functions, but the bulk of the work will go to the EU.

Finally, day after tomorrow, there will be a NATO-Ukraine summit. The emphasis there is twofold. One, we think -- we, NATO -- think Ukraine is important and a valuable partner, and, two, democracy in Ukraine is important and Ukraine-NATO relations will depend on the state of democracy in that country, in particular how the elections unfold. There will not be a NATO-Russia summit; however there will be a NATO-Russia ministerial. Foreign Minister Lavrov will be here; Secretary Powell will represent the United States. There will be a Euro Atlantic Partnership Council meeting at the summit level, in which President Bush will, of course, take part, and the Euro Atlantic Partnership Council brings together NATO's partners.

Now, I will leave it there, that general overview. And again, if we are lucky enough to be joined by my more knowledgeable colleague, I'm sure you'll get more, and you'll have a great time comparing the differences, if any.

Questions, please.

Q What do you mean when you say that they may reach agreement on possible discussing further steps for security, opening the door for NATO possibly sending peacekeeping forces in the future?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I don't want to speculate about that. If we get there, the language will speak for itself, and there are a lot of things that NATO may want to do. We have to see how this develops. NATO -- it is -- it was regarded as heresy that NATO would ever do anything as exotic as a mission thousands of miles away from its -- what was regarded as its classic theater of operations in Central Europe. The fact that NATO is in Afghanistan and is taking on a major task, which is the training of a national army of some size, is pretty big stuff.

What you're referring to is a possible decision for NATO to study even more things it might do for Iraq as the training mission unfolds. I don't want to speculate as to what that may be. But this is pretty big stuff, especially in light of the debates.

Q What was the time line given, and what's the understanding among NATO members about how long the commitment will be to train and equip Iraq's security forces?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: First, we just received the request from the Iraqi government -- today is Sunday -- it came to NATO, I believe, on Monday or Tuesday. So it's less than a week. We have a lot of work to do to find out what the Iraqi needs are, specifically what they have in mind, what NATO can offer. This is a big deal. But I believe that NATO will agree that this is an urgent mission and it's got to be carried out fast. What "fast" means I wouldn't want to say, because if I said that it meant I knew what precisely would happen and when, and I don't because NATO has to work with the Iraqis. A lot of thinking is being done, but I don't want to get into the details.

Q Dr. Rice said this morning that NATO has not specific training mechanism itself, and so the training would actually be done by individual countries. Can you spell out what is NATO actually doing? Is it facilitating this? Is it a headquarters for this?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, NATO -- Dr. Rice was pointing out that NATO is an alliance of nations, and that NATO, itself, as an alliance has very few multinational forces that are truly multinational. But there is a tremendous difference between NATO individual nations doing -- running individual national programs, and NATO as an alliance developing a training program as an alliance.

Q What is that difference?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The difference is that would be a coherent program run by NATO, even though individual countries would be doing pieces of that. The difference is important, whether it's 26 programs all running around, or one program that's being carried out. And we have to work through the details, but this is a NATO decision that we're looking at.

Of course, Dr. Rice was accurate, but I'm giving you the sense of where we are.

Q -- something that needs to be done fast, if we're talking about NATO starting from scratch and developing a program, what's the time line we're looking at on that?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, as I said, I country discuss the time line because I don't know what it is. But it is certainly not true the national programs are necessarily faster. In fact, if your objective is to train the Iraqi army to help provide security for Iraqi citizens, you do want a coherent training program rather than lots of training programs. I mean, just logically. So that's what we have in mind.

Q How do you plan to deal with the PKK terror, and when, especially after the June 30th deadline?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm sorry, I missed that. Could you repeat the question?

Q PKK terror -- how do you plan to deal with the PKK terror, and when? And what's going to happen after the June 30th deadline?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, there are some -- the United States has made clear that the PKK is a terrorist organization and that KONGRA-GEL, its latest name, is simply part of the same old terrorist organization. We're working with the Iraqi government and we are working with Turkey on a variety of means to end this threat, this terrorist threat. We take it very seriously. I have to say that the Turkish leaders were quite firm and quite clear, and the President appreciated both their candor and their determination to work with us. But for various reasons, some of them obvious, I don't want to say exactly what we will do, and when.

Q On that, is the U.S. passing the ball to Iraqi interim government, or the Iraqi-Kurdish forces, or does the U.S. remain to be primarily responsible for the removal of PKK from Iraq?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I would not put it that way. Clearly, the sovereign Iraqi government that takes power after June 30th is an important player in all of this. They are the government. They need to be a part of the solution, working very closely with Turkey, working very closely with the multinational force inside Iraq. And that is all to the good. If our common objective is the end of a terrorist threat against Turkey, and a terrorist threat, therefore, against -- more generally, the Iraqi government is to be a good partner.

The Iraqi defense and foreign ministers are here, and I suspect that this will come up in the discussions between Foreign Minister Zebari and Foreign Minister Gul. That's speculation, but I suspect that will be discussed.

Q Dr. Rice was on TV this morning saying that Prime Minister Allawi wants to bring back some former members of Saddam's regime to -- for part of the security forces. Does the United States support this idea?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I will not go into that because I don't do Iraq. And especially since my boss has commented, I think it would be foolish, as well as -- foolish on several grounds to explore that further.

Q Back on the training, is that happening inside Iraq, as well as outside in neighboring countries?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Fair question. This was one of the issues discussed at NATO. The Iraqi request was for training inside Iraq. Since you've seen Prime Minister Allawi's letter, I assume you know that that was explicitly asked for. And the question -- the thing to look for is whether NATO responds directly to that request. I'm familiar with the discussions, yes, it takes place inside Iraq. That was the request, and I believe that NATO will decide to answer that request.

Q In spite of what the Germans have said, Chancellor Schroeder has said that he doesn't believe the German troops should be -- German troops should be inside Iraq training.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, that's quite true, and the German position has been clear from the outset. I don't believe that the German position is going to change. We have never insisted the Germans have to go back to Iraq. We respect the German --

Q -- as part of this training mission?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There is now -- training can take place inside. The question was, does training take place inside? And I said, yes. But I did not say the training would take place outside. All right? Now, wait -- I mean, there is some kind of training that logically does take place outside: training of officer -- long-term officer training takes place outside. The Germans are already doing police training; that takes place outside. A comprehensive training program, if one designed it without regard to any national position and without regard to the last 18 months of debate, would, naturally, have elements inside, outside, it would have short-term, near-term, troop training, embedding officers, schooling, all kinds of things.

And there is nothing -- if NATO has a coherent training operation, it's certainly true that individual countries can contribute as long as it's consistent and part of an overall plan. So this is not an attempt to jam the Germans. We respect their position.

Q Just to be very clear, then. You're saying that some amount of training would happen inside Iraq, and some of that would happen outside?


Q How would what Petraeus is doing inside Iraq, what you have the Jordanians doing in Jordan, how would those two operations be part of a coherent NATO training program? Would you bring those under the NATO umbrella?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That is actually an excellent question, and it's -- oh, it is because that's exactly the kind of question that NATO is going to have to work out. So, what are the command and control elements, how do you put these things together, how do you link it up with the Iraqi chain of command with NATO, with Petraeus, those are all good questions. I can't give you a precise answer, except I will give you a sense that we are well aware of the need to make sure that this is linked up in some fashion.

I don't want to suggest how that might happen in great detail. But that's a fair question, and I think the result will be integration of some kind. I don't want to say how. But we're all aware of that, and you've hit on one of the things that NATO is going to be working with.

Q As far as you're concerned, you're ready to do that, let Petraeus maybe answer to a larger command?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't want to get into the precise details except to suggest that we're all aware of the need to have this work. I don't want to get ahead of myself and give you precise answers before there are precise answers. I'll give you a sense that that's a good question, we're all aware of it.

Q Can you characterize the response from Erdogan and Sezer on the Turkish -- the kidnapped Turkish workers, to the President's sympathies?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I generally don't like to characterize the positions of other governments, but the sense I had was determination on their part, as well as genuine human concern for the fate of the workers. I think that's a fair characterization. I don't want to go too much further.

Q One more. The Armenian Orthodox Patriarch said he gave the President a letter. I know that you weren't in the meeting, you got a very brief description, but he got -- he said he was giving the President a letter, he said he was denouncing violence in general. Has the President have a chance to read the letter? Has he received the letter? What can you tell us about it?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I can't say. I really can't say. I do know that the head of the Armenian church here has had a good history in the issue of reconciliation. He's regarded as a very positive, serious person. That's a very general statement. So for what's that worth, I offer it.

Q -- the religious leaders. Why did you miss it? You say there were motorcade issues? Was it security problems, protestors, anything --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Oh, no. There were no -- certainly no protestors that I saw. It was motorcade -- the motorcade was slow, and by the time I got to the meeting, the question was, do I barge in in the middle of the meeting, or since the U.S. Ambassador to Turkey was there, do I let him take the notes and give me a readout, and I decided not to barge in. That's all there was.

Q The motorcade wasn't slowed down by security --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, certainly -- certainly not. It ran rather smoothly, but it's -- we were going through an old part of town. You don't race through it at 90 miles an hour.

Q Could you please talk about what Prime Minister Allawi means by technical assistance, and will that be part of the agreement, something that will be announced in the next couple of days? And secondly, could you please elaborate what the President meant when he said that he wants to make sure that NATO is configured militarily to meet the threats of the 21st century?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The last one I can answer fairly easily. NATO no longer has to worry about the Soviet army rolling through the central plains of Europe. Yet NATO national armies are only in the beginning process of transformation. Some of the NATO new members have radically transformed their armies, but they haven't had the financial resources to do as much as they like. Some of the pre-1989 NATO members have very good plans, they know what needs to be done, but they're not there, either. NATO has to develop forces like the rapid reaction force, which was agreed to at the Prague summit, and get these forces ready to do what needs to be done for the future. That's what it means.

With respect to technical assistance, look, take a look at the text in the NATO agreement when it comes out. The Iraqi Foreign Minister and Defense Minister are here, so you might ask them. Allawi is, clearly, in my limited experience with him, is clearly capable of saying what he wants and what he doesn't want, and I think technical assistance means a support and support in the context of training. But he also wants -- I think he wants NATO to look at other ways in which it can be helpful, and that's what NATO will be doing if we reach agreement.

Q But excuse me, sir, are we talking about helicopters, or --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I can't get into that because I have to see. We don't have -- there's no annex to the letter, a list of the things that he wants. I think we're going to be developing it with the Iraqis, but I can't -- I don't want to speculate about how NATO will go about fulfilling its mandate if, indeed, it reaches agreement tomorrow or the next day.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- just a couple more.


Q You had mentioned that the interim Iraqi defense and foreign ministers are here. Who did they meet with, and how were -- how did those meetings go?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The foreign minister -- they were invited by the Turkish Foreign Minister, I believe. And there was an informal meeting of the NATO foreign ministers with the Iraqi interim foreign minister this evening. I don't have a readout of that meeting. I also believe that the Iraqi defense minister was going to meet in an informal setting with the NATO defense ministers, also, this evening. I don't have a readout of that, either.

Q Those meetings have not taken place?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: They are taking place now. I don't have any readout. If my more knowledgeable senior administration official colleague does make it here, he may have more information for you. I'm giving you what I've got.

MR. McCLELLAN: It does not look like he's going to make it here.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, alas, it doesn't. You've had to make due with me. I am sorry.

Q Afghanistan?


Q So NATO is going to make a commitment on Afghanistan. They made a commitment previously which they did not deliver 100 percent on. What's different about this one?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: NATO does have about 5,800 troops right now in Kabul as part of ISAF and it is now moving outside of ISAF. You should ask for details from people who know them more -- better than I do. But by my understanding, ISAF is going out of Kabul in stages, and I believe that NATO will be in a position -- believe -- that NATO will be in a position to announce it has sufficient forces to launch stage one, which is an expansion to the North, through PRGs, these provincial reconstruction teams, and that it will start to work on assembling the forces for stage two expansion.

So how you play -- how you interpret this depends on which angle you look at it from. Would I like there to be more NATO forces and make this easy? Sure. On the other hand, the fact that NATO is able to do this at all, given the fact that a few years ago, only obscure academics even considered the possibility of NATO out of area this far, means that NATO has come a long way.

You can -- you have both. It's not -- the truth isn't in between, the truth is both, that NATO needs to do more to have the capabilities to set these things up more easily, but also, NATO has come a tremendous way in terms of taking on new responsibilities and carrying out missions that it didn't know it would be dealing with a few years ago.

So I consider this -- I consider this a major summit. And I will end with a final thought, that this is the first NATO summit that is dealing almost exclusively with NATO's future role dealing with future 21st century challenges. What NATO is discussing, and what most of our discussion this evening has been about, is about things like Afghanistan and Iraq and NATO's transformation.

Now, that means that NATO has already gotten its mind adjusted to its new challenges. That makes this summit historic because now the debate about what NATO is for is answered, and the question now is how NATO is going to do that. That is a tremendous achievement for NATO, and an achievement, moreover, in light of a very difficult debate it had last year. And yet, NATO has moved forward. That's a great achievement. And, for once, on the eve of a NATO summit, I really am looking forward to tomorrow. That is not always the case.

Thank you.

END 7:45 P.M. (Local)

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