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Senator Joseph Lieberman: Ladies and Gentlemen, it's a pleasure to be able to greet you. Senator McCain and I are leading this nine-member, bipartisan Senate delegation in this trip to Turkey today. We've just had a very constructive and important meeting with Prime Minister Ecevit. We said to him that we are on our way to the region of the conflict directly -- to Afghanistan, Pakistan, etc. -- as part of the war on terrorism, and the United States Congress' support of that war. But we wanted quite intentionally to stop here in Turkey, in Ankara, first to thank Prime Minister Ecevit and the Foreign Minister, Mr. Cem, for the long-term friendship with the United States, for the strong bilateral relationship, and particularly, for the very critical support, very important support, that our allies here in Turkey have been giving us and the international community in this specific war on terrorism. We also wanted to thank the Prime Minister himself for his wise and effective leadership of Turkey, which has been so important to the stability and the progress of this country and of the region.
We exchanged ideas on this: that the war on terrorism is, from the United States' point of view, a response to the attacks against us on September 11th. But this is also about a conflict of values and approaches to life and international relations. As President Bush has said over and over again, as members of Congress from both parties have said, this is a war against terrorism, not a war against Islam. It is with particular importance that I say that here in Turkey, this great country, wonderful ally of ours, which really is the shining example of the extent to which an Islamic country can embrace democracy, modernity and tolerance. That's a very, very powerful message.
We can answer questions if you'd like.
We spoke about the economic reform program here in Turkey and urged the Prime Minister to continue to give the leadership he has in adopting the economic reforms that are so important to the IMF [International Monetary Fund] and the world community. We spoke about Iraq and a very important debate in the United States about our policy toward Iraq. I expressed the point of view, which I think is felt by many in the United States, that the war against terrorism will not end until Saddam Hussein is removed from power in Baghdad. But I also wanted to assure Prime Minister Ecevit and Foreign Minister Cem that anything that the United States does in this regard should be done in consultation with the Turkish government, which has an obvious security and commercial interest in these matters. And that from my own point of view, a change in regime in Baghdad, which I think is so critical to the security of the United States, does not mean that the territorial integrity of Iraq should in any way be changed from what it is today. I'm going to yield now to Senator McCain.
Senator John McCain: We wanted to thank the Turkish government and people for all that they have done for many years, including the Persian Gulf War, and their continued assistance and cooperation in the Afghan situation, including their willingness to play a major peacekeeping role in Afghanistan. Both sides understand the importance of maintaining peace and stability in Afghanistan. That includes the establishment of a national army in Afghanistan. We did discuss the Iraqi situation and there is a belief, not unanimous in the United States nor in this delegation, that Saddam Hussein poses a clear and present danger to the national security of the United States of America and the world. But we do not intend or hope we would not act in a way that would be viewed as unilateral. Finally we view this region of course as very important from the aspect of stability, from the aspect of the war against terrorism, but also the great natural resources that will be necessary to maintain the economy here and in the rest of the world. We're pleased to have the opportunity to visit the region and beginning our trip here in this great nation.
Senator Lieberman: Before we take questions, I want to take just a moment to introduce, to let you know who our delegation is. We have almost ten percent of the United States Senate, membership on the Armed Services Committee, the Foreign Relations Committee, and the Intelligence committee.
Senator McCain: -- and ninety percent of the intellect.
Senator Lieberman: Right, we all agree with that. Senator Hagel of Nebraska, Senator Carnahan of Missouri, Senator Nelson of Florida, Senator Collins of Maine. Senator Collins of Maine feels better in the weather that we found here in Ankara today than Senator Nelson from Florida. Senator Reed from Rhode Island, Senator Thompson from Tennessee, and Senator Edwards from North Carolina.
Question: From your meetings today, with the Turkish prime minister and foreign minister, are you convinced that Turkey would extend the necessary support to the United States in an operation against Iraq while they still retain their concern that if Saddam is overthrown that would lead to the formation of a Kurdish state in northern Iraq?
Senator Lieberman: Well, we had good exchanges with the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister. As you well know, Prime Minister Ecevit is going to the United States in a couple of weeks, and I'm sure these matters will be discussed. I think it's fair to say that the Prime Minister said to us, as he said publicly here in Turkey, that whether Saddam Hussein remains in power or not is a matter that's up to the Iraqi people and in that sense is of less consequence to the government of Turkey than the continued territorial integrity of Iraq. We stated our own feeling, Senator McCain and I have said, about how we believe that there is no way to imagine reconciliation with Iraq under Saddam. The United States has no conflict with the Iraqi people but with this government that seems so bent on developing weapons of mass destruction and has such a continuing and obvious desire for revenge against the United States. But that is not inconsistent with our own belief and the importance of maintaining the territorial integrity of Iraq. So I think we have positions that are not inconsistent between these two strong allies, United States and Turkey.
Senator McCain: Clearly, this would be a matter of discussion when the Prime Minister visits the United States of America with our administration. As members of the Senate, we don't speak for the American administration as you know. We are in agreement that there is a compelling requirement to return the weapons inspectors. There is an agreement that Saddam Hussein is in violation of the cease-fire agreement. There is an agreement that Saddam Hussein continues to pursue the development of weapons of mass destruction, including contacts with the terrorist organizations such as took place in Prague, Czech Republic. We are appreciative, and I know the administration is appreciative, of the sensitivity of the issue regarding the Kurds. That's why any action taken by the United States vis-a-vis Saddam Hussein would be after a period of consultation -- and hopefully cooperation -- with particularly the Turkish government but also with other governments in the region that are moderate.
Question: Did you hear any messages that Prime Minister Ecevit might come to Baghdad? Is Turkey going to be a mediator in that sense, because the United States does not want Turkey to be a mediator?
Senator Lieberman: There was no discussion of that. There was considerable discussion of the very affirmative role that Turkey has played and hopefully will continue to play as a mediator in the Middle East peace process because it is respected and trusted by all parties there, uniquely. The same is true of the very constructive role that Turkey is playing and hopefully will continue to play in the reconstruction of a liberated Afghanistan. But there were no specific discussions on that point.
Senator McCain: The major message I think that some of us got from our meetings is that part of the Afghan situation has been addressed successfully. There is a long way to go. Turkey will play a major role in peacekeeping, rebuilding the health system, the economy and the education institutions in Afghanistan. The United States and our allies cannot walk away this time after the Taliban is removed because we know what happened in 1989. The major message is we have to stick with this until Afghanistan has a reasonable government, a reasonable economy and reasonable self-expression.
Senator Lieberman: I think we learned something quite important historically today, all of us, which was the role that Turkey under Ataturk played in the 1920's, in extending itself in the interest of progress and modernity toward Afghanistan. We have an opportunity now for Turkey to hopefully realize even more fully the vision of a progressive, democratic power in [sic] Islamic country in Afghanistan.
Question: Another question would be on the Gulf War. Turkey must have told you about its losses at that time. Do you think that this time Turkey will be compensated by the United States?
Senator McCain: Well, we hope to improve trade. We hope to improve a lot of the exchanges that we have. I hope for one that we could remove some of the barriers to trade that exist between our two countries. There are many of us who are committed to that proposition, such as the same kind of agreements as Jordan and other countries were able to achieve. Honestly, it's difficult because there is some protectionism that exists in the United States. But I think we should all work towards that goal. And I believe the prime minister's visit to the United States will highlight areas where we can assist the Turkish government and people.
Senator Lieberman: I'd add a very brief point. I agree with everything Senator McCain has said. I think it's important to say that our expressions of good will toward Turkey not stop at being mere expressions but, as has happened in the past, be tangible. That goes to progress in trade relations. It also goes to the fact that the United States has been very active within the IMF, in seeing to it that the IMF extended itself toward Turkey. We will continue, I hope, to do exactly that.
Question: What do you think about Turkey's desires to take command of the multinational force in Afghanistan?
Senator McCain: I think it's a fine idea. I think they are best equipped to do so. Obviously that would be achieved through a process of consultation and agreement, in particular with the British, whom they would be taking over from.
Senator Lieberman: Thank you all very much.
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