Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and U.S. President Barack Obama both expressed that they shared the same views regarding a democratic future in Syria without Assad.
After holding a highly anticipated meeting yesterday, Prime Minister Erdoğan and President Obama took part in a press briefing at a rainy Rose Garden in Washington D.C. midday Thursday. The two leaders announced their shared views on Assad stepping down, supporting the opposition, preventing Syria from becoming a haven for terrorism activities, stopping the use of chemical weapons as well as ensuring the safety and security of all minorities in the war-torn country.
Erdoğan referred to the meetings as "historic", while President Obama condemned the attack on Reyhanlı and said that although there was no "magic formula" to ensure Assad's departure, both military and diplomatic options were on the table, noting that they will continue to work closely with Turkey on the matter.
The following are a series of excerpts from yesterday's highly anticipated press briefing:
A HISTORIC DAY FOR RELATIONS: "I can say that this has been a historic day, a historic turning point in the context of Turkish-American relations.
OUR VIEWS OVERLAP ON SYRIA: "In our discussions that pertain to regional issues, Syria was at the top of our agenda. While we discussed Syria, we talked about what has happened so far and about what can be done in the future. We have views that overlap, as the President has just said. We will continue to discuss this issue in greater detail in our meeting this evening. But let me tell you that ending this bloody process in Syria and meeting the legitimate demands of the people by establishing a new government are two areas where we are in full agreement with the United States.
Supporting the opposition and Assad leaving are important issues. We also agree that we have to prevent Syria from becoming an area for terrorist organizations. We also agreed that chemical weapons should not be used, and all minorities and their rights should be secured. These are all priority areas for all of us. And we discussed what needs to be done on these issues with the President, and this evening, we will continue to talk about these in greater detail."
THE FIGHT AGAINST TERRORISM: "I would like to express our condolences for the terror attack that took place in Boston. We express our condolences to the American people. We are a country which has been fighting against terrorism for many years. We've lost many lives in that fight against terrorism, and so we very well understand the feelings and sentiments of the American people in face of such an event. As Turkey and the United States, we are both determined to continue to fight jointly against terrorism.
Turkey and the United States have many issues that cover the Middle East to the Balkans to Central Asia to other areas, including issues such as energy, security supply, as well as many others and we display a strong cooperation in all of these areas."
TRIP TO GAZA IN JUNE: "With respect to the Middle East peace process, we discussed with the President this important issue, which is very important for regional peace. In the attack against Mavi Marmara, which was taking humanitarian aid to Gaza, Turkish citizens and one Turkish-American citizen were killed. And as you know, we are working with the Israeli government for compensation for those who lost their lives. And the visit that I will pay to Gaza will contribute to the peace in Gaza and to unity in Palestine, in my opinion."
20 BILLION IS NOT ENOUGH: "Bilateral economic relations between Turkey and the United States have to be improved, and we both have this aim. Ten years ago, our trade stood at $8 billion; at the moment, trade stands at $20 billion. But this amount is still not sufficient. We have to increase the amount of trade between our two countries.
Bilateral economic and trade relations between Turkey and the United States will continue to develop. And as we carry forward with these efforts, we need to strengthen this relationship with free trade agreements and other agreements. And I can tell you that as leaders of our nations we have the will to continue to develop our economic relations."
CALLING FOR A TRANSPARENT ELECTION IN IRAQ: "Iraq was also another area of discussion for us on regional issues. Transparent elections in Iraq and the participation -- ensuring the participation of all political groups in the elections are both very important in Iraq. With everyone's participation we would like to see a peaceful period in Iraq. And this is what both we and the United States would like to see. On regional and global issues, the partnership between Turkey and the United States serves peace, security, and stability, and will continue to do so even more in the future."
Erdoğan commented on the rain as he concluded his opening address by stating, "I will cut my remarks short, not because I am trying to flee from the rain. Rain is considered to be a great source of abundance. But I will stop here to say that I hope our discussions will be beneficial for our future relations."
"This visit reflects the importance that the United States places on our relationship with our ally, Turkey, and I value so much the partnership that I've been able to develop with Prime Minister Erdoğan."
INCREASING THE PRESSURE ON ASSAD: "We are going to keep increasing the pressure on the Assad regime and keep working with the Syrian opposition. The Prime Minister has been at the forefront of the international effort to push for a transition to a democratic Syria without Bashar Assad. And Turkey is going to play an important role as we bring representatives of the regime and opposition together in the coming weeks.
We both agree that Assad needs to go. He needs to transfer power to a transitional body. That is the only way that we're going to resolve this crisis. And we're going to keep working for a Syria that is free from Assad's tyranny; that is intact and inclusive of all ethnic and religious groups; and that's a source of stability, not extremism, because it's in the profound interest of all our nations, especially Turkey."
CONDOLENCES FOR REYHANLI: "Mr. Prime Minister, on behalf of the American people, I want to express our condolences to the Turkish people and the victims of the outrageous bombings that took place in Reyhanlı. As always, the United States stands with you as you defend your nation against terrorism."
THE BURDEN ON TURKEY: "Finally, we spent a great deal of time on an issue that has racked the region -- the issue of Syria. Under the Prime Minister's leadership, the Turkish people have shown extraordinary generosity to the Syrians who have found refuge in Turkey. And I know this is a heavy burden."
FULL SUPPORT FOR PEACE RESOLUTION: "I want to take this opportunity to commend you and the Turkish people for your courage in seeking an historic and peaceful resolution of the PKK violence that has plagued Turkey for so long. And just as the United States has stood with you in your long search for security, we will support efforts in Turkey to uphold the rule of law and good governance and human rights for all."
PRAISE FOR TURKEY'S ECONOMY: "We agreed to keep expanding trade and investment. Over the past four years, our trade has surged and U.S. exports to Turkey have more than doubled. As the United States pursues a new trade and investment partnership with the EU, I want to make sure that we also keep deepening our economic ties with Turkey. So we're creating a new high-level committee that will focus on increasing trade and investment between our two countries and will help fuel Turkish innovation. And the progress that Turkey's economy has made over the last several years I think has been remarkable and the Prime Minister deserves much credit for some of the reforms that are already taking place."
Once the two delivered their opening comments the floor was opened up to questions from the press. The first questioned posed to Prime Minister Erdoğan was on normalizing relations with Israel and whether or not he still planned to visit Gaza.
GAZA TRIP TO INCLUDE WEST BANK: "As for your question about Gaza, according to my plans, I will most probably be visiting Gaza in June. But it will not be a visit only to Gaza; I will also go to the West Bank. I place a lot of significance on this visit in terms of peace in the Middle East, and this visit in no way means favoring one or the other. I'm hoping that this trip will contribute to unity in Palestine, first and foremost. This is something that I focus greatly on and I am hoping that my visit will contribute to this process."
CHEMICAL THREAT: Erdoğan was also asked if he had shared the evidence Turkey has of chemical weapons being used in Syria with the U.S. President. "Let me, first of all, say that chemical weapons and missiles, rockets that have been fired -- all that information is shared between the relevant bodies within our administrations. And it's not just Turkey and the United States. For example, the United Kingdom and all others have those documents, that information, because we share information. And the U.N. Security Council, all the other relevant authorities will also receive that information in the proper time so that more information is provided to the public. So we will continue to work in this way.
LOOKING AT THE GLASS AS HALF FULL: When asked how he feels the war will be affected should the United States not increase its involvement, Prime Minister Erdoğan stated, "You are talking about the part of the glass which is empty. I like to look at things with the glass half full instead of half empty. What we would like to see is the sensitivity on the part of the international community with respect to what's going on in Syria. And this is what we, as Turkey, are striving for, and I do believe that the United States is doing the same, as are other countries, the United Nations Security Council, the Arab League.
Our aim is to accelerate this process, and I will be visiting other countries, my Foreign Minister will be visiting other countries, just to see how we can speed things up in a way which will prevent the death of more people, and in a way which will ensure a transition to a democratic system in Syria. Our goal is to see the tyranny, the dictatorship go away in Syria and to be replaced with democracy. And I think this is a collective responsibility on the part of all countries that believe in democracy. And this is what we will all continue to do."
RUSSIA AND CHINA ARE IMPORTANT: "Russia and China being part of this process is very important, and this is important in the context of the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council. Their participation in this process will certainly add greater impetus. The pressure of the international community continues to be a very important element, and when we look at the humanitarian support that we have provided so far, we see that support equaling to more than $1.5 billion. And we continue to keep an open-door policy, and we will continue to do this because we have a border which is 910 kilometers in length with Syria; there are relatives across the border on each side. So we will continue these efforts. "
OBAMA ON MILITARY OPTIONS: Obama was asked to comment on his earlier statement that chemical weapons would be a "red line" and whether at this point Syria has crossed it.
"Well, as the Prime Minister indicated, our militaries, our intelligence and diplomatic personnel are constantly sharing information. And I've said in the past, we have seen evidence of the use of chemical weapons inside of Syria. It is important for us to make sure that we're able to get more specific information about what exactly is happening there.
But separate and apart from the chemical weapons, we know that tens of thousands of people are being killed with artillery and mortars, and that the humanitarian crisis and the slaughter that's taking place by itself is sufficient to prompt strong international action.
And that's why the Prime Minister and I spoke extensively about the steps we're taking on humanitarian efforts; the steps that we're taking to strengthen the opposition politically so that it is inclusive and representative of all the people inside of Syria; the steps that we need to take to continue to strengthen the capacity of the Syrian opposition that are on the ground fighting to protect themselves from the Assad regime; and that we continue to try to mobilize the entire international community to put more and more pressure on Assad so that he recognizes that he is no longer legitimate and that he needs to go, and that we are able to move to a political transition in which the institutions inside of Syria are still functioning, but we have a representative, multiethnic, multi-religious body that can bring about democracy and peace inside of Syria.
With respect to what I've said in the past around red lines, what I've said is that the use of chemical weapons is something that the civilized world has recognized should be out of bounds. And as we gather more evidence and work together, my intention is to make sure that we're presenting everything that we know to the international community as an additional reason, an additional mechanism, for the international community to put all the pressure that they can on the Assad regime, and to work with the opposition to bring about that political transition.
Now, there are a whole range of options that the United States is already engaged in, and I preserve the options of taking additional steps -- both diplomatic and military -- because those chemical weapons inside of Syria also threaten our security over the long term, as well as our allies and friends and neighbors.
But this is also an international problem. And it is very much my hope to continue to work with all the various parties involved, including Turkey, to find a solution that brings peace to Syria, stabilizes the region, stabilizes those chemical weapons. But it's not going to be something that the United States does by itself. And I don't think anybody in the region, including the Prime Minister, would think that U.S. unilateral actions in and of themselves would bring about a better outcome inside of Syria."
THERE IS NO MAGIC FORMULA
Obama responded to a reporter's question of when and how he thinks Assad should step down by stating, "We would have preferred Assad to go two years ago; last year; six months ago; two months ago. And there has been consistency on the part of my administration that Assad lost legitimacy when he started firing on his own people and killing his own people, who initially were protesting peacefully for a greater voice in their country's affairs. And obviously that's escalated during the course of time. So the answer is the sooner the better.
Now, in terms of the question how, I think we've already discussed that. There's no magic formula for dealing with a extraordinarily violent and difficult situation like Syria's. If there was, I think the Prime Minister and I would have already acted on it and it would already be finished.
And instead, what we have to do is apply steady international pressure, strengthen the opposition. I do think that the prospect of talks in Geneva involving the Russians and representatives about a serious political transition that all the parties can buy into may yield results. But in the meantime, we're going to continue to make sure that we're helping the opposition, and obviously dealing with the humanitarian situation. And we'll do so in close consultation with Turkey, which obviously is deeply invested in this and with whom we've got an outstanding relationship with."
AN INDEPENDENT PALESTINE IS POSSIBLE: Obama commended Erdoğan for his efforts to normalize relations with Israel, by stating, "Given our shared interest in peace, I want to note the Prime Minister's efforts to normalize relations with Israel. This will benefit both the Turkish and Israeli people and can also help us make progress on a two-state solution, including an independent Palestinian state."
A WARM ADDRESS AT THE WHITE HOUSE
At the close of the press briefing which followed a nearly two-and-a-half-hour meeting prior, President Obama turned to Erdoğan and said, "So, again, Mr. Prime Minister, I want to thank you for being here and for being such a strong ally and partner in the region and around the world. I know that Michelle appreciates the opportunity to host Mrs. Erdoğan and your two wonderful daughters this morning. I'm looking forward to our dinner tonight. And, as always, among the topics where I appreciate your advice is close to our hearts, and that's how to raise our daughters well. You're a little ahead of me in terms of their ages."
This is a translation of an article originally written by Mehmet Ali Berber.