Mon. Mar 4th, 2024
Secretary Antony J. Blinken With Deniz Kilislioglu of NTV

QUESTION:  Secretary Blinken, first of all, welcome to Türkiye.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.

QUESTION:  Thank you very much for joining us.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  It’s wonderful to be back here.

QUESTION:  Well, I would like to start with the earthquake incident.  Definitely, that was a huge two earthquakes that hit Türkiye, and we know that U.S. deployed rescue teams within hours and we know that many support came from the United States, NGOs as well.

I will ask the further aids, but I would like to start with your personal impression, because you were in the field yesterday and you saw over the whole area.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  That’s right.

QUESTION:  You said that it’s hard to put in words, but I would like to push on you.  Would you please explain what – what words that came into your mind when you first saw what happened in the region?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, thank you, and first let me say this:  Our hearts, but also our hands, are with Türkiye in this moment.  And before I got on the helicopter, and then after I got on the helicopter with Mevlut Cavusoglu to overfly the region today, I got a chance to meet with some of our first responders who are there, the search-and-rescue teams, the others who are doing everything they can with so many other countries around the world to help.  And literally, we put our hands to this as well as our hearts.

But seeing this with my own eyes, flying over part of the region that has been so devastated, has an incredibly powerful impact because you’re seeing entire communities that have been leveled, have been flattened to the ground.  You see this strange juxtaposition of buildings that are still standing and the building right next to it is gone.

And chance, fate, who knows, plays a part in that, but mostly, I think what I’m thinking is this:  We see these numbers of the people affected, 40,000 or more killed, so many more injured, wounded, so many more without homes now.  And what I was thinking flying over were these are not numbers, these are not abstractions; these are mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, aunts and uncles, lives that were going on normally one minute, and then the next, the earthquake, and then the second earthquake comes.  And I think you think almost automatically of your own family, your own children, your own loved ones, and imagine what it would be like to be in that situation.  And it’s just the profoundly human element of this that is so powerful and so important.  It’s also what motivates us to want to help our friends.

QUESTION:  Okay.  I would like to ask that – additional aids that you were – during the press conference, you said that the new aids are on its way —

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Yes.

QUESTION:  — if we are not mistaken.  You had a meeting with President Erdogan —

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  That’s right.

QUESTION:  — and also the Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.  What are the first needs or what are the first steps that the United States will take?  And would you please give a little bit more concrete parts of that new aid package?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Sure, sure.  So, first of all, what we did initially was we put in about $85 million to the effort.

QUESTION:  Right.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  And as you know, we had two search-and-rescue teams – one from the westernmost part of our country in California, the other from the easternmost in Virginia, almost 300 people on the ground trying to help find people and bring them out alive.  But we also have recovery specialists who are there.  We have more than, I think, 15 dogs that were looking to find people, more than a dozen helicopters flying from Incirlik to get to areas that you couldn’t reach by road to try to find people and help people.

QUESTION:  Like moving back and forth.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  And moving back and forth and bringing supplies back and forth.  I saw the effort at Incirlik itself where goods are coming in from all around the world and they’re going there and then they’re being loaded onto trucks – I had to chance to actually help put some things on a truck —

QUESTION:  Mm-hmm, I saw the pictures, mm-hmm.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  — and moving out to where it’s needed.  Yesterday, I announced an additional $100 million.

QUESTION:  Right.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  And what we’re doing is we’re, of course, listening to the Government of Türkiye, what are the most urgent needs, and I think what —

QUESTION:  What are they?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  And they are very – in a way, very straightforward.  It’s shelter for people who have lost their homes or can’t get back into their homes, and in some cases, that means tents.

QUESTION:  Right.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  In other cases, it may mean these larger containers that we’re looking at and working on.  Of course, it’s medical supplies, it’s hygiene, portable toilets —

QUESTION:  Right.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  — food as necessary to reach places that don’t have it, all of these things.  And so all of this we’re doing in very close coordination with our partners in Türkiye.

QUESTION:  Okay.  After the devastating earthquake back in 1999 —

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Yes.

QUESTION:  — when still the former president, Bill Clinton, was —

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Yes.

QUESTION:  — in the region and he spent almost a week in the region as well in Türkiye, we wonder if President Biden will show the same solidarity with Türkiye in the upcoming days.  Because we know that he is in Ukraine as we understood, so is there any chance that he can stop by in Türkiye?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  So I was actually with President Clinton in 1999.  I worked for him.

QUESTION:  Right.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  And I remember that very, very well, and that too was a powerful moment.  President Biden wanted me to get here as quickly as possible.  I’m here on his instructions to show, as best I can as well, our solidarity, our commitment.  And I can’t speak to his schedule, but I can tell you that his commitment in terms of what he’s instructed our entire government to do is deep and real.

QUESTION:  Okay.  We will see.  I would like to start about the bilateral issues that we need to talk about it, F-16 issue.  You had a press conference today.  You said that it’s hard to give a timeframe about the approval of the Congress for the F-16s.  I understand that one of my colleagues asked you, what are you waiting for to give that official request – I mean the paper – and we had two questions on mind:  If the United States administration waiting for the elections of Türkiye to get that approval and – to move forward, one part of this question.  And the second part, it might be a relation between the approval of Türkiye and the membership of NATO with Sweden and Finland.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  So first, President Biden, our administration strongly supports —

QUESTION:  Okay.  We know that.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  — providing the F-16s to Türkiye, the modernization program.  We think it’s essential for making sure that we have full, as we call it, interoperability between Türkiye and the rest of NATO.

QUESTION:  Right.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  So I think this is a matter of importance for our alliance.  It’s certainly a matter of importance for the United States.  I can’t give you a timeline on when it will formally be presented to Congress.  What I can tell you is I’ve been engaged in conversations with the leaders of Congress to make clear the strong views of the administration on the need to get the F-16s.

And it has nothing to do with elections in Türkiye, and from the perspective of our administration, it’s also not tied to the question of accession for Finland and Sweden to NATO.  Although we believe that should happen as soon as possible, we don’t connect the two.  But members of our Congress have concerns, and they have to approve any package, any sale.  And one of the reasons that I’m spending time with Congress is to make sure that I fully understand their concerns and see how we can address them.  And —

QUESTION:  So you’re waiting for the best time to propose that paper?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  We are, and we’re waiting to make sure that the concerns of Congress can be effectively addressed.  Because as much as our administration wants this to go forward, it can’t move forward without the approval of Congress.

QUESTION:  What happens if they – I mean, you cannot disappear their concerns.  Does the United States —

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I don’t —

QUESTION:  — administration have any Plan B?  Because Türkiye is so (inaudible) to get any other kind of equipments from other countries.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Look, I don’t want to – I’m not going to get into hypotheticals.  I can just tell you that we strongly support it —

QUESTION:  Okay.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  — and we’ll work with Congress to make it happen.

QUESTION:  Okay.  Do you think that before the Vilnius summit of NATO that Sweden and Finland membership will be clarified?  Do you think so?  I believe that you hope, but I would like to ask if you still think that it’s going to be – happen.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I believe it will – it will happen soon, and in any event, it should happen soon.  We believe that both countries would add tremendously to the NATO Alliance, which would be to the benefit of all allies, including Türkiye and the United States.  They’re already fully able to work with NATO because they’ve been doing so for years.  They’re strong democracies, strong militaries, and particularly at this time of tremendous tension in Europe, this would only benefit the common defense.  I think it would make all of us more secure, so we would like to see it happen as quickly as possible.  I think there’s been an important process that’s worked to address Türkiye’s very legitimate security concerns, and I think both countries are taking very important steps to do that.

QUESTION:  Okay.  You also mentioned these legitimate security concerns of Türkiye when you’re talking about the Syria issue.  I’ll go with that too because I don’t want to finish up this interview without asking Syria issue because you were one of the diplomats at that time discussing with the YPG to give it arms support if we are not mistaken.

So Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu basically and clearly said that it’s not okay to – it’s a fatal error to fight with a terrorist organization with another one.  You didn’t comment during the press conference.  Would you like to?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  We and Türkiye both have important security concerns.  We fully appreciate and respect Türkiye’s security concerns when it comes to its southern border.  Equally, I think that Türkiye understands and respects our security concerns, which actually they share about ISIS, about Daesh.  We invested tremendously in dealing with this problem.  It’s profoundly not in our interest to take any steps that would allow Daesh to re-emerge.

So we are working closely with the government to make sure that we can address both concerns, the concerns that Türkiye has about the border, and particularly we strongly oppose any cross-border attacks.  We of course are not in favor of a Kurdish state in northern Syria.  And it’s very important that everyone take steps to avoid a conflict and keep the focus on Daesh, on ISIS.  So we’re working in that direction with the government.  We had a good conversation today.  I expect we’ll pursue it in the weeks and months ahead.

QUESTION:  We’ll see what’s going to happen about that in cooperation – about that operations as well.  You will be going to Greece tomorrow?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Tonight, in fact.

QUESTION:  Tonight?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Yes.

QUESTION:  And you will have discussions tomorrow.  I wonder, after the earthquake – foreign minister was here.  Prime minister of Greece said that earthquakes could present an opportunity to redefine relations between Greece and Türkiye.  That was his comment.  And we know that actually, the Turkish officials accuse the United States to lose its impartiality in relations between the Greece and Türkiye.  Do you think that after this atmosphere if Türkiye and Greece will go forward – move forward – do you think that you will re-evaluate the balance of your policy?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Oh, there’s no imbalance.  Both Türkiye and Greece —

QUESTION:  According to Turkish officials, there is.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, from our perspective —

QUESTION:  Okay.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  — both Türkiye and Greece are close friends and, of course, NATO Allies.  And both are very important partnerships and relationships for us.  It was incredibly gratifying to see Greeks – and also, by the way, Armenians, Israelis – working shoulder to shoulder with Turks to help people in the earthquake.  And one hopes that if there can be anything positive coming from this catastrophe, maybe it is improved relations with these countries.  I think Türkiye has taken steps to try to improve relations.  We very much support those.  I look forward to conversations in Greece to see how we can be helpful.

QUESTION:  And do you think that Greece also needs to get closer to the Türkiye as well?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I think both countries need to make efforts —

QUESTION:  Okay.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  — both to calm any tensions and also to find a positive way forward in improving relations.  By the way, if some of these long-time disputes – for example, maritime disputes – can be resolved, then the possibilities are immense, notably for Türkiye because Türkiye would be at the heart of a flow of energy across the Mediterranean, also the Aegean, and the – but particularly in the Eastern Mediterranean from Northern Africa to Europe.  The economic benefits of that would be tremendous.  The opportunities for Turkish business, for Turkish economy, for the Turkish people would be tremendous.  So there’s a real benefit to resolving these longstanding differences because it just creates more opportunity for people.

QUESTION:  If you have time, I would like to ask a last question about the Ukraine war —

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Yes.

QUESTION:  — because we are going to the first anniversary —

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  That’s right.

QUESTION:  — and President Biden visiting Ukraine today.  I would like to ask, it seems like additional support from the United States going on to Ukraine definitely, but when we think about the one year, President Putin made many miscalculation during that time, including like getting to Kyiv and like —

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Yes.

QUESTION:  — invading Ukraine, the whole, but one thing that he didn’t make that miscalculation about: the economy.  He is still surviving.  And the support of the United States – the arms support and the whole military support, not only United States, but also the Western countries and the NATO countries, he’s still standing there.  What would be your evaluation after one year, and what’s going to happen in the second year of the war?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, first, actually, I think virtually everything that President Putin tried to do, the opposite has happened.  He thought that he could erase Ukraine from the map, eliminate its identity, subsume it into Russia.  That hasn’t happened and it won’t happen.  He thought he could divide NATO, he thought he could divide the transatlantic community.  On the contrary, there’s greater solidarity, greater common purpose than at any time that I remember.  And in terms of his own country, what he’s done is having horrific consequences.

What we’ve seen over the last year, more than a million Russians have left the country, including the most educated people.  They want nothing to do with this.  More than a thousand big companies from around the world have left Russia because the reputational cost of doing business in Russia in the face of this aggression is too high.  The impact on the Russian economy is severe and it is going to get worse.  The export controls that are denying Russia the most sophisticated technology means that it will not be able to modernize its key industries, whether it’s the defense industry, aerospace, energy extraction, technology.  That’s going to have a heavier and heavier impact.  And of course, most horrifically, there have been something like, by public figures, 200,000 Russian casualties in Ukraine – 50- or 60,000 dead, more than 100,000 wounded.  And he keeps throwing people into it.  It’s horrific.

QUESTION:  No signals for him to push —

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well —

QUESTION:  — step back?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  — eventually I believe that he will have to come to —

QUESTION:  That point?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  — his senses because what he is doing is doing tremendous damage to his own country.  If I had a chance to talk to the Russian people, the question I would ask is:  How has any of this done anything to make your life better?  How has it improved your life in any way?  On the contrary, it’s made things worse and it’s made Russia’s future worse as a result of this naked aggression on Ukraine, and at some point everyone has to reach that conclusion.

Meanwhile, we will do everything that we can, and many other countries are doing everything they can, to support Ukraine, to help it defend itself, to help it take back the territory that’s been seized by force, to continue to keep pressure on Russia until it changes its ways, and also to strengthen our NATO Alliance defensively because one can’t be sure where Russia will take its aggression next.

QUESTION:  Secretary Blinken, thank you very much for joining us —

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.

QUESTION:  — for all your comments.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Good to be with you.  Thank you so much.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.

Official news published at https://www.state.gov/secretary-antony-j-blinken-with-deniz-kilislioglu-of-ntv/

originally published at Politics - JISIP NEWS