TÜRKİYE ve ABD arasında Suriye’deki Kürtler nedeniyle uzun süredir devam eden derin farklılık, Ankara’daki bombalama olayının ardından bir kriz ihtimaline dönüştü. ABD Dışişleri Bakanlığı, Türk Hükümeti’nin saldırıdan YPG’yi sorumlu tutan açıklamalarına ilişkin bunun kendileri için “ucu açık bir soru” olduğunu duyurdu.
Bakanlık Sözcüzü, YPG’ye koalisyon desteğinin devam edeceğini belirtirken Türkiye’ye geçen hafta yaptığı, Suriye’deki YPG hedeflerine yönelik topçu atışlarını sona erdirme çağrısını yineledi. Washington Yönetimi, Türkiye’nin olaya ilişkin meşru müdafaa hakkının ise Türkiye topraklarında geçerli olduğu mesajı verdi.
ABD’den saldırı açıklaması
UCU AÇIK BİR SORU
ABD Dışişleri Bakanlığı’ndaki günlük basın toplantısında konuyla ilgili soruları yanıtlayan Sözcü John Kirby, “açıkça masum insanları öldüren bir terör saldırısı” diye nitelendirdiği bombalamadan kimin sorumlu olduğu yönündeki iddialar için şunları söyledi: “Türk Hükümeti tarafından olayın sorumlularına dair öne sürülen iddiaları doğrulama ya da reddetme gibi bir pozisyonda değiliz. Bu bizim için halen ucu açık bir soru. Anladığım kadarıyla devam eden bir soruşturma var.” Kirby, Dışişleri Müsteşarı Feridun Sinirlioğlu’nun aralarında ABD’nin Ankara Büyükelçisi John Bass’in de bulunduğu, önde gelen ülkelerin büyükelçileriyle Ankara’da yaptığı toplantıda Türkiye’nin ortaya koyduğu, saldırıyı YPG’yle bağlantılı gösteren kanıtların ABD’yi ikna edip etmediği yönündeki bir soruya ise konunun ABD için “ucu açık bir soru” olduğunu tekrarlayarak cevap verdi.
Kirby, ABD Dışişleri Bakanı John Kerry ve Dışişleri Bakanı Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu arasında bugün Ankara saldırısı nedeniyle bir telefon görüşmesi gerçekleştiğini belirtirken, Kerry’nin Çavuşoğlu’na Türkiye’nin Suriye’deki YPG hedeflerini bombalamayı durdurması yönündeki çağrıyı tekrarlayıp tekrarlamadığı konusunda ise şöyle dedi: “Bizim pozisyonumuz aynı. Bu (YPG’ye yönelik top atışlarını durdurma çağrısı) Başkan Yardımcısı Joe Biden tarafından (geçen hafta Başbakan Ahmet Davuoğlu ile yaptığı telefon konuşmasında) dile getirildi. Biz de bu kürsüden dile getirdik. Bu konuda bir değişiklik yok.”
Kirby, Cumhurbaşkanı Tayyip Erdoğan’ın saldırısı sonrası yayınladığı yazılı mesajda Türkiye’nin “meşru müdafaa hakkına” işaret etmesi ve YPG’ye yönelik düzenlecek bir sınır ötesi harekâta dair iddialar konusunda ise şunları söyledi: “Her devletin kendi vatandaşlarını koruma sorumluluğu ve zorunluluğu vardır. Hele terör eylemlerinden kesinlikle. Özellikle, bu tür terör eylemleri kendi topraklarında düzenlendiğinde. Bundan daha önce bahsettik. Özellikle PKK’yla ilgili olarak. Bu bir. İkincisi, sınır ötesi top atışlarıyla ilgili Türkiye’yi sınır ötesi top atışı yapmaması konusunda uyardık ve uyarmaya devam ediyoruz. Ve Kürt savaşçıları, IŞİD’le mücadele gibi daha geniş çabaları baltalayıcı şeyler yapmamaları (Afrin’den doğuya ilerlemeleri) konusunda da uyarmayı sürdürüyoruz.”
YPG’YE DESTEĞE DEVAM
Kirby, Ankara’daki bombalamadan sonra ABD’nin YPG’ye yönelik askeri desteğini devam ettirip ettirmeyeceği konusunda, “IŞİD’e karşı en etkili savaşçılar arasındalar. Koalisyon tarafından havadan destekleniyorlar. Bu desteğin daha önce olduğu gibi yer ve zamana uygun olarak devam etmesini bekliyorum” dedi. Kirby, Başbakan Ahmet Davutoğlu’nun “Türkiye’ye düşman bir örgütü doğrudan veya dolaylı destekleyenler de Türkiye için bu anlamda dost hüviyetini kaybetme riskiyle karşı karşıya kalırlar” şeklinde, Suriye’de YPG ile işbirliği yürüten ABD’yi hedef alan açıklamaları için ise şu yorumda bulundu: “Ben odada (Sinirlioğlu ile Ankara’da yapılan toplantı) değildim. O yüzden spesifik olarak (Büyükelçi Bass’in) ne dediğini bilmiyorum. Ama şuna hiçbir şüphe olmamalı ki, ABD, bir NATO müttefiki ve IŞİD’e karşı koalisyonun kilit katkı sağlayıcısı olan Türkiye’yle işleyen yakın işbirliğine sahip olmaya devam etmek zorunda. O yüzden bu çok iyi ilişkiyi güçlendirmeye devam ettirmenin önemi açısından bizim perspektifimizden değişen hiçbir şey yok. Özellikle ikimiz de ortak düşman IŞİD’le karşı karşıyayken.”
GERÇEK DÜŞMAN IŞİD
Kirby, Davutoğlu’nun yanı sıra Erdoğan’ın YPG’yle işbirliğinden dolayı “ABD’yi suçlayıcı güçlü ifadeleri” için ne yorumda bulunacağı sorulduğunda ise ”İfadelerin güçlü olduğu tartışmasız. Bunlar Erdoğan’ın görüşleri ve kendi açıkladı. Ancak Türkiye’ye, ABD’ye ve bölgedeki diğer ülkelere yönelik ortak tehdit oluşturan IŞİD gibi bir grupla koalisyon olarak mücadele etme taahhüdümüz de eşit derece güçlü” diye konuştu. Kirby, “Burada hepimizin bulunmak zorunda olduğu taraf, IŞİD’le mücadele tarafı. Türkiye de bu tarafta” derken, Türkiye’nin bazı Kürt gruplarıyla ilgili endişelerini görüşmeye devam edeceklerini belirtti. Ve “en iyi dostların bile görüş farklılıkları olabileceğini” söyledi. Kirby, “Suriye’de Kürtler için ayrı, yarı özerk bir bölgeyi desteklemediklerini” bir kez daha tekrarlarken, “Gerçek düşman IŞİD” dedi ve herkesin enerjisini buna odaklandırmasını istedi.
TÜRKİYE KOALİSYONDAN ÇEKİLİR Mİ
Kirby, bu gerginliğin Türkiye’nin IŞİD karşıtı koalisyondan çekilmesiyle sonuçlanma riski olup olmadığı konusunda ise “Bu sadece Ankara’nın yanıtlayabileceği bir soru. Biz bunun olduğunu görmek istemeyiz” diye konuştu. Konuyla ilgili daha sonra bilgi veren üst düzey bir Amerikan Dışişleri yetkilisi ise Türkiye’nin koalisyondan çekilmeye hazırlandığı yönünde bir işaret görmediklerini belirtti.
NATO MÜTTEFİKİ VE CESUR KÜRTLER
Kirby, Erdoğan’ın geçen hafta ABD’ye yönelik “Ya Türkiye ya PYD” şeklindeki çıkışıyla ilgili “Bu taraf seçme meselesi değil. Türkiye’nin (IŞİD karşıtı) koalisyon üyesi olduğundan şüphe yok. Bizim NATO müttefikimize yönelik taahhütlerimizden de şüphe yok. Ama Suriye’nin içinde IŞİD’e karşı en güçlü savaşçıların Kürt savaşçılar olduğundan şüphe yok” diye konuştu.
Dışişleri Sözcüsü, Erdoğan’ın ABD’yi PYD ve Türkiye’yi eşitleyen bir yaklaşım içinde olmakla suçlamasına ise şöyle yanıt verdi: “Türkiye bir devlet ve NATO müttefiki. Bunu böyle kabul ediyoruz. IŞİD’e karşı önemli bir ortak. Bu bir ulus devlet ve öteki tarafta Suriye’deki etkili, cesur Kürt savaşçılar arasında eşitlik meselesi değil. Ama biz hem Kürt savaşçılara hem de Türk Hükümeti’ne sınırdaki gerginliği azaltmaları için adımlar atma çağrısı yaptık mı? Evet yaptık.”
1:24 p.m. EST
MR KIRBY: Afternoon, everybody. A couple things at the top here, then we’ll get after it.
Today we want to welcome the news that delegations from the governments of the United States and Japan have successfully negotiated an amendment to our Open Skies Agreement. This amendment would provide, for the first time since 1978, daytime services by U.S. and Japanese air carriers between the United States and Tokyo International Airport, otherwise known as Haneda, the busiest in Japan and the closest to downtown Tokyo. These flights are expected to begin as early as this fall.
A couple of meetings to read out or at least to advance. Later today, the Secretary will welcome Moroccan Foreign Minister Mezouar to the State Department. Morocco is a leader in the region, particularly against Daesh and violent extremism, and we value our countries’ strategic partnership and enduring friendship. In the run-up to the U.S.-Morocco Strategic Dialogue in April, the Secretary and the foreign minister plan to discuss a broad range of shared concerns, notably climate change, since Morocco will be hosting COP22 later this year.
On Cuba, the Secretary is going to meet this afternoon – in fact, in just a few minutes – with Cuban Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment Minister Rodrigo Malmierca today to discuss economic relations between our two countries, also the regulatory dialogue, economic reforms by the Cuban Government, and the human rights situation in Cuba. Minister Malmierca is in the United States for the second U.S.-Cuba Regulatory Dialogue, February 17th to 18th, so yesterday and today, during which experts from the Departments of Commerce, Treasury, and State describe the regulatory changes enacted on January 27th of this year that affect the export and financing of certain goods and services authorized for Cuba and the challenges identified by U.S. companies about doing business in Cuba.
Finally on Uganda and the elections today, Ugandans head to the polls to elect their president. The United States condemns the detention of opposition presidential candidate Kizza Besigye while voting and tallying is going on. Such an action calls into question Uganda’s commitment to a transparent and free election process, free from intimidation. The United States is concerned also by the late opening of many polling stations as well as the Government of Uganda’s decision to block several popular social media and mobile money sites here on election day. We continue to urge government authorities as well as all political parties and their supporters to refrain from further acts or rhetoric that may lead to more unrest or claim any more lives.
With that, Matt.
QUESTION: Were you aware that Mr. Besigye has actually been released or —
MR KIRBY: No, I have not gotten that report.
QUESTION: Okay. But so you still condemn —
MR KIRBY: Are you saying —
QUESTION: He was briefly – well, he was briefly detained.
MR KIRBY: I have not seen those reports, but —
QUESTION: He was taken into custody, but —
MR KIRBY: — by the time I came out here, as far as I know, he was still detained.
QUESTION: Okay. But no matter whether —
MR KIRBY: It doesn’t excuse the detention —
MR KIRBY: — one way or the other.
QUESTION: Okay. Just a logistical thing. I know that you’re not announcing travel or not able to, but would you expect the Secretary to go to Cuba before the President’s visit that’s just been announced to work out details?
MR KIRBY: I don’t know. It’s possible. But I don’t have any specific travel for the Secretary to announce with respect to Cuba.
QUESTION: All right. And would you expect him to go to Cuba with the President?
MR KIRBY: I don’t have any travel specifically on Cuba to speak to today.
QUESTION: Okay. On – let’s go to Turkey, because I think that’s where most of this is going to go today. We saw that the Secretary called the Turkish foreign minister.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: I presume – did the Secretary repeat the request/demand that the Vice President made that the Turks stop bombing Syrian Kurds? And what does the Administration make of the Turkish response to the – Turkish response and blame assigned for the bombing yesterday to the Syrian Kurds, the YPG?
MR KIRBY: The primary purpose for the call was to express our condolences, I think as you saw in my readout of that. They did discuss the tensions across the border. I don’t think – I’m not going to go into any greater detail than that. Certainly, our position has been the same and was expressed by the Vice President and we’ve expressed it from this podium as well, so there’s been no change on that.
With respect to the claims of responsibility, we’re in no position to confirm or deny the assertions made by the Turkish Government with respect to responsibility. As far as we know, that’s – as far as we’re concerned, that’s still an open question. And we understand that there’s an investigation ongoing, so I’m not in a position one way or another to ascribe responsibility.
That said, clearly a terrorist attack, clearly taking innocent lives, and that was, again, the purpose for the call this morning, to express our condolences. And we – as I’ve said before, Turkey, like every other nation around the world that is under the threat of terrorist attacks, has every right to try to do what it has to do to protect its people from those attacks.
QUESTION: So —
MR KIRBY: We recognize the threat that Turkey is still under.
QUESTION: So that means that – I’m just – I don’t – the context of all this is interesting, because – or is important, because when the Vice President made his call to the prime minister and said that you should stop bombing Syrian Kurds, that was before this attack.
MR KIRBY: Right.
QUESTION: So in the wake of this attack, the Turks have blamed it on the YPG.
MR KIRBY: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Are you still saying that the Turks, even though you say they have the right to defend themselves, do you think that they should go after the people who they say are responsible?
MR KIRBY: They have the right to protect themselves from terrorist attacks on their soil. But we’ve said before – with respect to the cross-border tensions, we asked the YPG to show restraint. We also asked Turkey to stop shelling across the border.
QUESTION: Okay. So you do not believe that a new – that new bombing or attacks on the YPG inside Syria across the border is warranted – is a warranted or acceptable response to this attack, if it is determined that they were, in fact, responsible, which I think, as you said, is an open question?
MR KIRBY: It’s an open question for us, yes.
MR KIRBY: But nothing’s changed about our view that the taking of additional ground by the Kurdish fighters we found to be counterproductive to the fight against ISIL, and we said so. We also urged Turkey not – to cease the cross-border shelling – again, with the goal of trying to de-escalate tensions. Nothing’s changed about our view that we’d like to see those tensions continue to de-escalate. I’m not going to get into hypothetical responses by the Turks with respect this particular attack, but we recognize that as a nation-state they have an obligation to protect their citizens on their soil from terrorist attacks that are conducted there on their soil.
QUESTION: Yeah. You said that you would like to see these tensions continue to de-escalate. Really? Continue?
MR KIRBY: Well, I mean —
QUESTION: They’re not de-escalating now. They’re —
MR KIRBY: I didn’t say they were de-escalated, but we’d like to see a trend where they continue to de-escalate.
QUESTION: All right.
QUESTION: John, to clarify, the Turkish officials, the Under Secretary Sinirlioglu summoned with the ambassador of P5+1 in the Netherlands today, and the Turkish official said that Turks showed the direct link, direct evidence that this incident was conducted by the YPG. But as far as I understand, since it is still an open question for you, you are not convinced that the attack was conducted by YPG?
MR KIRBY: I think I’ll just stay where I answered it with Matt. I mean, we – I’ve seen their claims of responsibility. We still believe this is being looked into, and we’re not in a position right now to confirm or deny exactly who was responsible.
QUESTION: John —
MR KIRBY: Clearly, it was an act of terrorism, and clearly, innocent people died. And that’s unacceptable, and we’ve been very clear about that and, again, underscored in the call this morning by Secretary Kerry to his counterpart in Turkey. But I’m not going to speak to specific evidence that others may be looking at or be talking about while, as far as we know, an investigation is ongoing.
QUESTION: Did the foreign – Prime Minister Davutoglu said that it was very clear, because I mean, I’m repeating quote/unquote, “Supporting enemy of Turkey directly or indirectly will risk those countries’ status as friendly nations.” So Prime Minister Davutoglu and also President Erdogan made very clear – gave very clear messages today targeting U.S., so – because they were questioning the link between PYD and the PKK and the cooperation between U.S. and YPG was a clear question mark for Turkey. So how was the meeting, first of all? Do you have any readout of the meeting between Sinirlioglu and Ambassador Bass?
MR KIRBY: No, I don’t —
QUESTION: I mean, what was the response to this remark between —
MR KIRBY: I don’t have a readout of the meeting, and you should talk to officials in Ankara to read out a meeting that they called. And as for America’s commitment to Turkey, again, I haven’t – I wasn’t in the room so I don’t know what was said specifically. But there should be no doubt that the United States has and wants to continue to enjoy a close working relationship with Turkey, which is a NATO ally and a key contributor to the coalition effort against Daesh. So nothing’s changed from our perspective in terms of the importance of continuing to strengthen this very good relationship and make it stronger, particularly when we both face a very common enemy here in Daesh.
QUESTION: The last one. President Erdogan also said that – in a written statement after the attack – that Turkey will not hesitate to use the self-defense rights against these kind of attacks. He mentioned – I mean, he was talking about a cross-border operation against YPG targets since the Turkish Government sees the YPG as the perpetrator. What is your comment on the self-defense right of Turkey after this incident, including in terms of the —
MR KIRBY: As I said to Matt, every nation has an obligation, a responsibility to protect its citizens certainly from acts of terror, and particularly when those acts of terror are conducted on their own soil. We’ve talked about this before, specifically with respect to the PKK. So that’s fact one.
Fact two is with regard to the cross-border shelling, we have urged and will continue to urge Turkey not to engage in cross-border shelling, and we have continued to urge Kurdish fighters on the other side of that border to not – also not do things that are counterproductive to the larger effort of going after Daesh.
QUESTION: And in the phone call between the Secretary and his Turkish counterpart, have they discussed the call by President Erdogan for the U.S. to choose between Turkey as a NATO ally or the, quote, “terrorists in Kobani,” end of quote, as he called it? He said it is – is it time who is – is it time – me – “is it me who is your partner” – sorry – “or the terrorists in Kobani?” End of quote. That was the – President Erdogan’s statement last Sunday before the attacks. And now after these attacks, I mean, has anything changed now that the government in Turkey is blaming YPG for them?
MR KIRBY: Nothing’s changed about our commitment to Turkey as a NATO ally. Nothing’s changed about our commitment to making sure that all members in the coalition contribute – continue to be able to contribute in ways they find suitable to their sovereign needs. And Turkey is a contributor – a significant one, quite frankly, with respect to use of facilities there on their soil to go after Daesh, as well as the incredible efforts that they’re expending to deal with some two and a half million Syrian refugees on their side of the border. And it’s a border they know has challenges and a border —
QUESTION: (Inaudible) —
MR KIRBY: — hang on a second, I’m getting there – a border that they know – that they know has significant challenges still and that they’re trying to address. We’ve dealt with this comment of choice. I dealt with it last week, this issue of choosing. It’s not about choosing sides here. There’s no doubt about Turkey’s membership in the coalition. Obviously, there’s no doubt about our commitment to a fellow NATO ally. And there’s also no doubt that some of the strongest fighters against Daesh inside Syria have been Kurdish fighters. And there has been in the past air support provided by the coalition to those fighters when they’ve been in the midst of operations against Daesh, and that kind of coalition support will continue as the fight against Daesh continues to be executed inside Syria.
QUESTION: But when a president of a country poses such a question to an ally country, another ally, it’s a strong statement, pretty strong. And it shows a lot of outrage, maybe, or anger, by the Turkish president towards the U.S. for not taking a stance on what he calls terrorism in his country.
MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not disputing the fact that it’s a strong statement. I will let President Erdogan speak for his views, and obviously he has. But equally strong has got to be our commitment as a coalition to go after a group like Daesh, which represents a common threat to Turkey and to the United States and to every other nation there in the region, if not globally, because this is a group that has aspirations to go farther than certainly just the immediate Middle East.
And as I said last week, the side that we all need to be on here is the counter-Daesh side. And Turkey is on that side, and we’re going to continue to work through these issues and continue to try to find ways to make our relationship with Turkey inside that coalition stronger and better. We understand the concerns that Turkey has long expressed about some of these groups, some of these Kurdish groups. And we’re going to continue to have that discussion with them, because we appreciate their contributions. We also appreciate that they have these concerns, and we’re going to continue to work our way through that.
Even the best of friends, as I’ve said before, aren’t going to agree on everything. We value our close relationship with Turkey very much – bilaterally, all on its own, outside even the fight against Daesh, certainly inside the coalition and the fight against Daesh. And in terms of picking sides, the side that we think everybody needs to be on is the counter-Daesh side.
QUESTION: Did the Secretary caution Foreign Minister Cavusoglu to not use yesterday’s attack in Ankara as an excuse to go after Kurds inside Syria regardless of whether there’s any evidence that they might have had something to do with the attack?
MR KIRBY: The primary purpose for the call was to offer our condolences and to talk about the importance of beating a very common enemy. And I won’t go into additional detail. As I said at the outset, they did discuss the continued tensions across the border. But the primary purpose – and it wasn’t a very lengthy phone call – the primary purpose was to offer our condolences for the loss of life.
QUESTION: Let me ask it this way: Is the U.S. worried that the Turkish Government will use the Ankara attack as an excuse to go after Syrian Kurdish fighters, even if they had nothing to do with the attack in Ankara?
MR KIRBY: We’ve been very clear that – what we’ve been asking of Turkey to do here, which is to cease the cross-border shelling. And as I said, we’ve also been clear with Kurdish fighters that – about the fact that we view this acquisition of additional territory, particularly in and around that airbase, to be counterproductive to the fight against Daesh. We’ve been clear to the Kurdish fighters; we’ve been clear to the Government of Turkey about what our hopes and expectations are.
I won’t hypothesize about what Turkey may or may not do in the wake of these attacks. Again, we recognize they have a right to protect their citizens on their soil from terrorism, same as we do, same as any country does.
QUESTION: But the U.S. also has an interest —
MR KIRBY: But – but we – what we want is a —
QUESTION: — in trying to keep the fight focused.
MR KIRBY: Exactly. And if you look at the readout from my call, it’s stressed in there because it was stressed in the phone call. What we want to do, as I said earlier just a few minutes ago, is we want people focused on the common enemy here. The real enemy is Daesh, and that’s what we want people to focus their energy and efforts on.
QUESTION: And so just to clarify, the U.S. is going to continue its military support for YPG fighters in Syria?
MR KIRBY: I think I’ve said that they’ve been some of the most effective fighters against Daesh, and they have been supported by the air from the coalition. And going forward, I would expect that that sort of support – where and when appropriate, as before – would continue.
QUESTION: The very same argument you just made and then called on Turkey to cease fire and the other side to call on Syrian Kurds to not take more territory – President Erdogan’s accusation is that the U.S. is equalizing – seeing equal this YPG and Turkey, even —
MR KIRBY: Is what?
MR KIRBY: Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh. Equalizing because we’re talking to both?
QUESTION: YPG and Turkey because you made calls on both sides.
MR KIRBY: Look, I mean, Turkey is a nation-state and a NATO ally, and we recognize it as such, and a key partner in the fight against Daesh. This isn’t about equality between a nation-state and effective, brave Kurdish fighters on the other side in Syria. But did we ask and urge both those Kurdish fighters and the Government of Turkey to take steps to de-escalate the tensions on that border? Yes, we did.
QUESTION: But when you have this Kurdish fighter – brave Kurdish fighter getting closer into your land, which you know that they have publicly expressed their wish to have – to take part of your land and come up with a Kurdish —
MR KIRBY: Right.
QUESTION: — some sort of governance along with Iraq and Syria borders —
MR KIRBY: Well, we —
QUESTION: They’ve expressed that publicly. That’s part of their plan. Then when Turkey sees them getting closer to the Turkish border, seizing more land, that makes them want to defend their borders and make sure that they don’t get closer. I mean, this is maybe the way how the Turks look at it. They’re defending their own land by not allowing this group to have their —
MR KIRBY: As I said, we understand and appreciate the concerns that the Turkish Government continues to express about these groups, and we’re going to continue to have that conversation with them. And we’ve been clear that we don’t support some sort of semi-autonomous zone for Kurds there in Syria, that the whole reason why the Secretary’s working so hard on a political process and a political solution to the Syrian civil war is so that Syria can emerge from this whole, unified, nonsectarian, and a safe and secure environment for the Syrian people to come back to and to live in and to prosper in. We’ve been very clear that we don’t support some sort of separate semi-autonomous zone for the Kurds there.
And again – I’ll just say it again – we understand the concerns that the Turkish Government continues to make about these groups and about their border. And as I said at the outset, it’s a border that is not without its challenges, and we appreciate that as well. We also appreciate the work that the Turks are doing to try to get at the flow of foreign fighters across that border.
QUESTION: John, on these, can you tell us who is fighting with you on the ground in Syria against the jihadis?
MR KIRBY: What do you mean, who is fighting?
QUESTION: Well, the Kurds, somebody else? Who is fighting?
MR KIRBY: There are many groups that are on the ground in Syria that have proven effective against Daesh.
QUESTION: Against – against —
MR KIRBY: Not all of them – not all of them are Kurds.
QUESTION: Yes, I understand this, but just tell us who is fighting the jihadis in Syria. The Turks, who?
MR KIRBY: The Turks – I’m not going to give you a laundry list, okay? I mean, I can send you to the Pentagon for that.
QUESTION: Just understand what is going on on the ground.
MR KIRBY: Yeah, I don’t have it and we – I’m not going to get into that.
MR KIRBY: But the – many members of the coalition, including Turkey —
QUESTION: I think he wants you to say Greece too. (Laughter.)
MR KIRBY: Every nation in the coalition can speak for themselves and what they’re doing. I’ve said that before. I’m also not going to get into military matters here. In fact, I’ve – I dove into a little bit more today than I normally would want to, but I knew this was going to be a big topic for you today.
But there’s lots of nation-states that are contributing to coalition operations in Syria against Daesh. There are fighters and groups of fighters inside Syria that have proven effective against Daesh. Not all of them are Kurds. And yes, they have – some of these fighters have benefited from combat air operations by the coalition on their behalf, and I would expect that as that fight against Daesh continues, so too would that air support. But again, this all comes back to who is the common enemy here; the common enemy is Daesh. Okay?
MR KIRBY: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Can I just jump in here on something? Is there a risk that these tensions could lead to Turkey pulling out of the coalition and focusing its fight, then, just on who it sees as the —
MR KIRBY: I think that’s a question that only Ankara can answer. Obviously, we would not want to see that. As I said, Turkey is an important contributor to the coalition effort. And as I’ve also said this, this – the fight going on in Syria, whether it’s the civil war or it’s the fight against Daesh, is not a theoretical exercise for them. It is real. It’s tangible. It’s every day. And they are facing more than two million refugees on their side, which they are trying to care for still. So they’re under a lot of pressure, and we recognize that. What they do in the future, obviously that’s for them to decide. As I’ve also said from the very beginning, it’s a coalition of the willing, which means every member has to be willing to contribute in ways that they find appropriate, and these are sovereign decisions that states have to make. So I can’t speak for what decisions Turkey might or might not make in the future. We, obviously, would want to see their contributions to the coalition continue. And as I said earlier, we are going to continue to look for ways to try to deepen it, broaden it, improve it.
Yeah. Is this on Syria-Turkey?
QUESTION: Syria. Not Turkey, no. Syria.
MR KIRBY: But it’s on the same area? Okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Syria. Thank you. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 38 civilians were killed, including three children, in Syria’s Hasaka Province in U.S.-led airstrikes in the past two days. Can you confirm this?
MR KIRBY: No, I can’t. I haven’t seen those reports, and I’d refer you to the Pentagon for any specific – any specific allegations against – of civilian casualties. What I will say, broadly speaking, is that Central Command takes credible allegations of civilian casualties and collateral damage very seriously. They do a thorough job of looking into them, and if they find reason to further investigate, they do – as I think a few weeks ago the Pentagon actually announced the results of some of those investigations that they conducted. So I haven’t seen this report, but I can assure you that if the – if Central Command finds it to be credible, they will look into it, and if appropriate, even take the next step, which is to actually launch an investigation into it.
QUESTION: Do you consider the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights a credible source of information?
MR KIRBY: They are one source that I know has contributed some of these allegations. And again, we take all of them seriously – all of them. That doesn’t mean they all get further investigated, because sometimes in a preliminary review the Pentagon can make an immediate judgment. Sometimes not. But I know we take all these claims seriously, including from this group.
QUESTION: South China Sea. A couple of questions. Yesterday, several senior officials, including Secretary Kerry, yesterday said placing the missile in South China Sea by China – they implied that China didn’t live up to its commitment not to militarize South China Sea. And he also mentioned when President Xi Jinping – when he was in the Rose Garden with President Obama, made the commitment, no militarization in South China Sea. However, when you go back to the transcript, the Chinese president didn’t mention South China Sea as a whole; he was specifically referred to Spratly Islands per se. So do you make distinction between the Spratly Island Chinese president make, and the islands that – where China placed the missiles?
MR KIRBY: I think that’s a lot of dancing on the head of a pin. And it isn’t just President Xi’s comments that lead us to the view that China has said that they don’t intend to militarize. Foreign Minister Wang Yi has said as much in his meetings with Secretary Kerry, and they were specifically talking about the South China Sea. So I know we often go back to President Xi’s comments, but those comments have been echoed by other Chinese leaders, too, with respect to the South China Sea. So I think we’re on pretty firm ground in terms of being able to say that the Chinese have said one thing and, yet, appear to be doing another. And as the Secretary said yesterday, we see no indication that that sort of effort, this militarization effort, has stopped. And it’s doing nothing, as we’ve said before, to make the situation there more stable and more secure. In fact, it’s having quite the opposite effect.
QUESTION: But Mark yesterday, he said – he answered to Matt’s question, he said – will the U.S. send any warships and fighter jets to South China Sea – “it’s not militarization but freedom of navigation.” Why can’t the U.S. send commercial ships to South China Sea to exercise freedom of navigation instead of sending warships? And how do you define militarization?
MR KIRBY: Okay. All right, let’s take this one piece by piece. First of all, having a ship, whether it’s a warship or otherwise, sail in international waters to get from point A to point B, or even just simply demonstrate that you can do that in international waters, is a far cry from putting missile systems or artillery pieces hard on a beach that have a semi-permanent or if not permanent presence. That’s different. And who exactly are these pieces of artillery designed to shoot at? Who?
A ship – a Navy ship operating in international waters is completely within international law. We have – our Navy has a fundamental obligation to represent our interests around the world and to support freedom of navigation, and will continue – as the Secretary has said and I believe Secretary Carter has said, we’re going to continue to fly, sail, and operate in international airspace and international maritime space as needed to do what we need to do to protect our national interests in that part of the world as we do in any other part of the world. That is a far different exercise of military – of the military instrument of power than is the emplacement on basically fabricated territory of artillery pieces.
QUESTION: But that Woody Island – that island in the south where the missiles are, actually it’s a natural island.
MR KIRBY: Okay, so it’s a natural island. I’m not going to dispute geography with you. But putting surface-to-air missile systems there, I don’t know how you can look at that and say that’s not militarization. Now what do – now what some people say is, well, it’s self-defense. Self-defense against who? What’s the purpose for it? And – okay, so it’s clearly a militarization of a piece of beach that prior to didn’t have military weapons systems on it.
QUESTION: But the Chinese defense minister was arguing that, first of all, those missiles, those weapons have been on that island for years. And secondly, China actually regard that island as their territory. So it’s just —
MR KIRBY: They regard – they seem to regard quite a bit as their territory, as I understand it.
QUESTION: But talking about where the missiles are on that particular island, China regard it as its sovereignty. And it’s just like the U.S. has right to put weapons on Guam.
MR KIRBY: Yeah, but you have to make these decisions in place and time as well, and there’s enough tension right now in the South China Sea over these disputed claims that we continue to believe militarization of – whether they’re manmade or natural features – is not conducive to lowering the tensions. And it certainly has no role in what we believe should be the solution, which is work these things out – these claims – diplomatically and through international law, through an international process.
So whether it’s manmade or not, whether it’s – whether there have been in the past years systems – weapon systems put on these features or not – again, irrelevant. You have to consider it in place and time now.
QUESTION: John —
MR KIRBY: And so we have an obligation – back to your question about the Navy – we have an obligation, as we do everywhere around the world, to exercise freedom of navigation in accordance with international law. And every mission that we have conducted thus far in the South China Sea has been in accordance with those international obligations.
QUESTION: Regardless if —
QUESTION: John, are —
QUESTION: — China have the sovereignty and the administration rights on the island or not?
MR KIRBY: You have to put it in place and time. And in so many of these cases, the sovereignty is an issue of dispute. But let’s just say hypothetically that the sovereignty wasn’t in dispute. You still have to put the militarization in context of the tensions which are going on right now.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: One other thing the Secretary said yesterday was they’re going to have high-level discussions with the Chinese. Are you aware if those have happened? And regardless if they have or haven’t, are you aware of any Chinese officials telling Americans that – American officials that, indeed, yes, that this missile system is in place and has been in place on this island?
MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of either. I’m not aware of either.
QUESTION: So the premise in the question is that the Chinese have said, yeah, they’re there. You’re not aware if the Chinese —
MR KIRBY: No.
QUESTION: — have said that to you?
MR KIRBY: I’m not.
QUESTION: Okay. But the other thing is, is that you can make the argument that your sailing – that the U.S. sailing military ships and flying military planes into this region/area is simply an exercise of – is an exercise of U.S. national interest and promoting or protecting freedom of navigation. But surely, you can understand that from the Chinese perspective, it raises tensions, no?
MR KIRBY: I was waiting. I thought there was more to your question.
QUESTION: Surely you can understand, yes or no, that from the Chinese perspective, that is also militarization and it raises tensions?
MR KIRBY: It’s not militarization, and the Chinese have expressed their concerns about it, but our answer to it is simply that these are —
QUESTION: “We’re right and you’re wrong.”
MR KIRBY: No.
QUESTION: That’s – well, no, that literally —
MR KIRBY: No, no, no.
QUESTION: This is the part – it may very well be that the U.S. military, when it goes and it sails around these islands in a time of heightened tensions is acting —
MR KIRBY: Which are heightened why? Which are heightened why, Matt?
QUESTION: Well, what – it doesn’t matter why they’re heightened.
MR KIRBY: Yes, it does matter why they’re heightened.
QUESTION: Look, it may very well be the case that this is purely innocent and not military, but that’s not the way it is seen —
MR KIRBY: I never said it was innocent.
QUESTION: — by the other side.
MR KIRBY: Never said it was innocent. The United States has —
QUESTION: It’s not a threat?
MR KIRBY: — five of seven – five of seven of our security treaties are in the Pacific – five of seven.
QUESTION: Mm-hmm. And none of them cover this specific area.
MR KIRBY: And we have – well, I think —
QUESTION: They could if sovereignty ever was – was ever decided over these places.
MR KIRBY: We have serious treaty obligations and security commitments in the Asia Pacific region. The situation is growing tense. I don’t disagree with your analysis there. And the chief reason is because of the fabrication of manmade features —
MR KIRBY: — by China and the militarization of them. That’s the chief reason. So let’s be clear about why things are getting tense or not. And we have significant obligations – obligations that, because they’re security treaties, must be backed up with a robust and healthy military presence.
QUESTION: Well, that’s fine, but —
MR KIRBY: And that is what – and that is what the military is doing.
QUESTION: Your treaty obligations to the Philippines, to whoever else, do not include areas that are not under their sovereignty. They don’t include the area – these kinds of areas.
MR KIRBY: Whoa, whoa, whoa. No, no, no.
QUESTION: And unless I’m mistaken, the United States has never ratified the Law of the Sea – the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
MR KIRBY: But we still act in accordance with it, even though it hasn’t been ratified. We still live up to it. And Matt, the obligations that we have – the treaty obligations – they’re not defined by geographic – specific geographic GPS coordinates, okay? We have an obligation to the Philippines, we have an obligation to Japan, we have an obligation to South Korea. Yes, those are nation-states and yes, they have geography, but the treaties themselves don’t say that you’re only going to defend them in this part of the water and not another part of the water.
QUESTION: Okay. But I guess my question is, though, is that if – it may – you’re demanding that the Chinese accept your explanation on this, just as you demand that other countries, like Russia, demand – accept your explanation for NATO moving towards the East as not being a threat. But they perceive it as such, and that – and because they perceive it as such, that raises tensions. So I don’t understand how it is you can – they’re – tensions are not just being raised because of Chinese militarization or the reclamation of land there. They’re also being raised by the response.
Now, chicken-or-egg question it is not, yes. But the fact of the matter is the tensions are rising, and when you sail military ships or put military aircraft in there, it doesn’t reduce the tension. It just makes the tension rise more. And I don’t see why —
MR KIRBY: The tension with China I think (inaudible) —
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Right.
MR KIRBY: — because our allies and partners, I think, find pretty comforting and reassuring U.S. military presence in the region, which will continue, okay?
QUESTION: Okay. But you don’t have tensions with that.
MR KIRBY: So let’s talk about whose tensions we’re talking about, and I think it’s great that you feel comfortable speaking for the Chinese Government. I don’t, so I won’t – I won’t – I won’t —
QUESTION: (Laughter.) I’m not speaking for the Chinese Government.
MR KIRBY: I’m not going to characterize how they’re viewing each and every flight or navy ship that sails through the South China Sea. But you said it’s, “You want them to accept your explanation.” It’s not just the United States’ explanation. It’s the explanation, it’s the view of the – much of the rest of the international community about what the prime source of tension is there, and that is the further reclamation of features and the militarization that we’ve seen on many of them. That’s the prime mover here.
QUESTION: But these are new missiles that were putting – were they? I thought my colleagues at the back said it was not —
MR KIRBY: I don’t have – I mean, I don’t —
QUESTION: — that they had been there for a long time, so I’m a little curious, because I thought they were new.
MR KIRBY: I think – well, I – look, I’m not going to speak for what —
QUESTION: No, are they new? I mean —
MR KIRBY: — Chinese officials have said about how long. I don’t know —
MR KIRBY: — how long this particular island had had systems put on it and taken – I don’t know. I’ve not seen it. All I can tell you is we’ve seen imagery that certainly suggests the very recent placement of surface-to-air missile systems. I’m not an expert on Chinese weaponry so I wouldn’t be able to tell you exactly, like, what model or make they are or how new they are – again, not the point. The point is that militarization of these features does nothing to reduce tensions.
And look, this is a relationship that’s too important. We’ve got to – we want to see and welcome a peaceful, prosperous rise of China. They’re a regional leader and a global leader in a rapidly growing economy. And they have and can exert positive leadership and influence. And you know we talked a lot about North Korea and a role that China can play there – a very useful role that, frankly, no other nation in the region can play. And that’s what we want to focus on, is working through these tensions and trying to strengthen what could be a very strong relationship with a very powerful nation. And these kinds of activities aren’t doing anything to help us get to that end, and that’s what we really want to focus on.
I’ve really got to go. I got to —
QUESTION: John —
MR KIRBY: I got to get to a meeting.
QUESTION: One more, quick.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you have any readout of Deputy Secretary Blinken met with South Korean National Security Advisor Cho Tae-yong today?
MR KIRBY: I think I’ve got that in here, don’t I, Elizabeth? No? I thought I had that. I guess I don’t.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR KIRBY: So, yeah, I don’t – I don’t have a readout yet, but when we do, we’ll give it to you.
QUESTION: But the leaders have a meeting already, right? So you got this afternoon —
MR KIRBY: I don’t know that it’s happened yet, so —
QUESTION: Okay. One more. UN committee for the North Korean human rights made the decisions that the high commissioner has requested court order for North Korean leader Kim Jong-un bring into international criminal court.
MR KIRBY: I haven’t —
QUESTION: Do you have any comment?
MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen that report. You’re going to have to let me get back to you. Guys, I’m sorry. I’ve got to go. I’ve got to go. I apologize.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:06 p.m.)