Contrary to some press reports, a careful reading of the official transcript of the remarks made on March 7, 2009 in Ankara, Turkey by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Foreign Minister of Turkey Ali Babacan, leads us to conclude that Secretary Clinton and the Obama Administration have taken a step forward on the religious freedom crisis confronting the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
Instead, we see her word choice to be a diplomatic device to bring up an issue that reflects negatively on the host country in a seemingly complimentary format. That assessment of her phrasing is supported by Secretary Clinton subsequently stating emphatically in those same remarks that she spoke with Minister Babacan regarding "the importance that we place on reopening the Halki seminary" -- an obvious reference to Turkey's violation of religious freedom.
We must also view Secretary Clinton's statements in Turkey in the larger context. Her husband President Bill Clinton initiated the practice of always bringing up the Patriarchal religious freedom crisis during White House visits by Turkish Prime Ministers. Further, we know the role that then first lady Hillary Clinton played in creating the only visit of a sitting American President (Bill Clinton) to the Ecumenical Patriarchate. That visit dramatically lifted the issue up the American agenda.
For the reader's convenience, we have included a transcript of the remarks made by Secretary of State Clinton and Foreign Minister Babacan below. We have also included the text of their joint statement, although it does not address religious freedom or the Ecumenical Patriarchate:
Anthony J. Limberakis, MD
March 11, 2009
Remarks With Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Ankara, DC, Turkey
March 7, 2009
FOREIGN MINISTER BABACAN: (Via interpreter) We would like to welcome Mrs. Clinton. We had a telephone conversation a few weeks ago, and I invited the Secretary during that telephone conversation, and I would like to thank the Secretary for having accepted my invitation and having come so quickly, I mean, after the telephone conversation.
This is the first visit of Mrs. Clinton to Turkey after the Obama administration took over and this is a very timely visit because there is a very wide agenda of the partnership between Turkey and the United States covering a vast geography and there are important developments coming up and important turning points coming up. And it is important for us to have discussions and consultations and it was important to have had that discussion to cover distance.
As you know, when we define the relations between Turkey and the United States we use the concept of friendship, the concept of partnership, the concept of being allies. And today, we have, once again, reiterated our friendship, partnership, and strategic alliance, once again. And we have been having many discussions - consultations on many areas and we have a common understanding to further deepening those consultations. In the future the topics that we discuss will be many more and we will have opportunities to discuss those issues in greater depth. Turkey and the United States defend the same values and work to disseminate those values to all four corners of the world: democracy, human rights, freedoms, rule of law, free market economy. Those are some of the values that Turkey and the United States defend, implement and try to disseminate to all parts of the world. And we do have a shared vision, in this sense, and we have common goals.
As you know, about three years ago, we had agreed upon a document called Shared Vision and Structured Dialogue. And today we will have a joint statement in writing, which will be distributed to you after this press conference. And you will see in that document that we will work to achieve even better results by working even closer together. We have, of course, taken up our bilateral relations -- political, economic, cultural relations, relations on education between Turkey and the United States. We have also, on the other hand, spoken about the Middle East, Israel-Palestine , Israel-Syria, Israel-Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, developments in those countries - we've discussed those.; the Balkans, the Caucasus; Cyprus was also on our agenda; Turkish-EU relations was another topic we spoke about; energy, from especially a regional perspective was another area of cooperation we discussed. And our good-excellent cooperation in the fight against terrorism. That was another topic we discussed which -- this is something that we will continue with the same determination in the future. We have both reconfirmed that approach.
We also evaluated our economic relations and we also very briefly spoke about Africa and North Korea although they are more distant geographies. This morning Mrs. Clinton had quite a detailed discussion with our Prime Minister and this afternoon she will be received by our president -- I will be there as well - and then she will go back to her home country. She has been away for quite some time -- for about a week now. She has been in this region for about a week.
So, I'd like to once again welcome Mrs. Clinton. The relations between Turkey and the United States will continue to be very important. We have both reconfirmed that importance in our discussions, and I would like to thank her very much for coming to Turkey as a sign of that importance. Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you so much, Foreign Minister, and it is wonderful to be back here in Ankara. I have a special place in my heart for your country and I am always grateful to remember the gracious hospitality that I have received here and the memorable trip that my husband and I made to Turkey in 1999. It was in the aftermath of the tragic earthquake, but both Bill and I saw the courage, humanity, resilience and strength of the Turkish people, and we have never forgotten that.
The relationship between our two countries is one of alliance, partnership, and friendship. We have stood shoulder-to-shoulder to face common challenges. We share a commitment to democracy, a secular constitution, respect for religious freedom, a belief in free markets, and a sense of global responsibility. I know that President Obama and I will work with you, with the president and the prime minister, to strengthen and deepen those ties, and to create even more opportunities for us to work together.
Turkey has been a major contributor to the ongoing struggle to stabilize Afghanistan. I remember the first time I flew into Afghanistan in 2003. The officer who met me as I came off my plane was a Turkish officer. I'm also grateful for the courage and sacrifice of the Turkish troops who have served alongside American and NATO forces in Afghanistan. And thank you as well to Turkey for your key role in helping rebuild the Iraqi economy, particularly in northern Iraq. You have stimulated trade and investment and been very helpful in working with the people of Iraq as they struggle to form their own democracy.
Foreign Minister Babacan and I covered a broad agenda today, just as I did with the prime minister earlier in the morning. In addition to Iraq and Afghanistan, we discussed our cooperation to defeat our common enemy, the PKK; to update NATO's capabilities to meet 21st century challenges; and we talked about the urgent need to work with the international community toward a two-state solution and a comprehensive peace in the Middle East.
I reiterate the Obama Administration's support for Turkey's membership in the European Union. The United States believes it will strengthen Turkey, Europe, and our transatlantic partnership. The United States continues to support the UN-sponsored talks now taking place to achieve a settlement of the Cyprus conflict based on reunification of the island as a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation. We talked about Turkey's democracy, its multiethnic heritage, and in that context, I raised the importance that we place on reopening the Halki Seminary and efforts to reach out to all of Turkey's communities.
The foreign minister and I concluded a joint statement that will be passed out to the press. That statement is a clear signal of our shared commitment to reenergize our alliance. I'm particularly pleased that it includes strong support for the United Nations Security Council and its work to maintain global peace and security, to deal with the issues, including terrorism and drug trafficking, organized crime, and the threat of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. It is a roadmap for our progress on a range of issues.
I also am very pleased to make two announcements. The first is that we will establish a Young Turkey - Young America initiative that will enable emerging young leaders in Turkey and the United States to develop initiatives that will positively impact not just their own lives, but the lives of our two peoples, and to help build a better future.
And finally, President Obama asked me to send a personal message as a reflection of the value that we place on our friendship with Turkey. President Obama will be visiting Turkey within the next month or so. The exact date will be announced shortly. We are coordinating with the Turkish Government to find a date that works for both of our presidents and our governments.
When I return home, I will tell President Obama he will find a warm welcome when he comes here to Turkey, and he will find, as I have always found, not only a partner for the challenges and opportunities that we face together, but a friend for all times and all challenges that lie ahead. Thank you so much.
FOREIGN MINISTER BABACAN: (Via interpreter) ... time, and we're running late so we'll take one question each, one from the U.S. side and one from the Turkish side. Now, as to who is going to ask the first question. Mrs. Clinton, you decide - first question goes to American press.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Mark Landler from The New York Times.
QUESTION: Two questions. With your emissaries now on the ground in Damascus, can you tell us whether the U.S. intends to send an ambassador back to Syria? And is the U.S. ready to work with Turkey on a Syrian-Israeli peace track?
For Minister Babacan, with the Obama Administration ready to engage in the Middle East, do you feel a sense of optimism that a Syrian-Israeli peace deal could be reached?
And then a follow-up for -- (laughter). Just a small follow-up. Since you did make a bit of news a moment ago Madame Secretary. There's been a great deal of speculation about where President Obama would deliver a major address in the Islamic world. Can we assume, if he's coming to Turkey in the next month, that that address will be delivered in Turkey?
With respect to Syria, we do have two representatives of the United States Government in Damascus today meeting with the Syrians. We are just at the beginning of exploring the issues that we must discuss between us, and no decisions have been made. We'll wait to hear back from our two representatives, and we will consult further. So we have not decided on any next steps.
With regard to the Syria-Israeli peace track, I offered my appreciation to the prime minister and the foreign minister for the leadership role that Turkey has played in bringing Syria and Israel together. The United States supports a comprehensive peace where Israel lives in peace and security with the Palestinians, and the Palestinians have their own state, and Israel lives in peace with all of their Arab neighbors, including Syria.
So the importance of this track of the peace effort cannot be overstated, and Turkey has played a very important role. Once there is an Israeli government, our special envoy will return to the region. The foreign minister and I and the prime minister and I have talked about how the United States will consult closely with Turkey as we move forward. But certainly, a peace between Syria and Israel, the normalization of relations, is something that would be a part of an agenda of a comprehensive peace effort.
FOREIGN MINISTER BABACAN: (Via interpreter) Let me add briefly the following, as you know, the peace talks between Syria and Israel were realized as four rounds, and when Mr. Olmert came to Ankara, there was an additional meeting, which we could call a fifth round. But the developments in Gaza rendered it impossible to continue those talks and we had announced at the time that those talks were suspended because in the peace process, when you have negotiations in one track, you can't have war in another track. You can't think of the same simultaneously.
But the situation in Gaza now and what happens from this day forward will be important. We place a lot of importance on having a permanent ceasefire, and whenever the conditions are right, whenever Syria and Israel say that they would like to re-initiate these discussions, Turkey, no doubt, will be ready to contribute to that process. But this will be upon the request coming from both sides.
Before the events in Gaza, we carried this process forward successfully with strong will, and in the future, too, whenever the two countries are ready, and whenever they make a request from us, then we would no doubt be ready again to take this process further. But the support of the international community, too, is very important, and the United States has been supporting this process from the very beginning, and there is no doubt that the international community and the support by the international community and the U.S. will continue to be important.
Now we take a question from the Turkish side. Yes, please.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) (Inaudible) from (inaudible) newspaper. Question to both ministers, first to Mrs. Clinton. With respect to plans of U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, do you plan to use Turkey as a route for the withdrawal of troops? And did you talk to the Turkish officials about your expectations in this regard today, and could you tell us the scope of that request?
And I also ask Minister Babacan for his views on that.
SECRETARY CLINTON: We are in the process of beginning to plan for the troop withdrawal from Iraq. President Obama has set forth the outlines of the plan. But clearly, there is a lot of work that has to go into translating our commitment to withdraw troops to the on-the-ground decisions about when and how the troops will leave Iraq. And I think it's understandable that we would not talk about military decisions; we would not be in a position to discuss how and when our troops withdraw. We will consult with and seek advice from a NATO ally like Turkey about the safest and most effective means of withdrawing our troops.
FOREIGN MINISTER BABACAN: (Via interpreter) I had already made some statements about the subject before. This is not new on our agenda. This is something that has been under discussion at a technical level for some time, and we'll assess the situation in close consultation with the United States.
But generally speaking, we have a positive view on this. If the timing -- as to what sort of equipment will pass through Turkey and what the scope of that cooperation will be, those are things that we will be discussing. And if we don't see any issues or problems as far as we're concerned, we believe that we will have this cooperation. But we're still at the very beginning, and we need to still talk about the details. And first, the American side will have - make its own preparations so that we can know what their request will be, and then we will negotiate or discuss those issues. But generally speaking, we would be willing to support this effort.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you.
Joint Statement by Turkey and the United States of America on the Occasion of the Visit of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton Upon the Invitation of Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey Ali Babacan
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
March 7, 2009
Read this article on the website of the U.S. Department of State
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Foreign Minister Ali Babacan today reaffirmed the strong bonds of alliance, solidarity and strategic partnership between the Republic of Turkey and the United States, as well as the commitment of both countries to the principles of peace, democracy, freedom, and prosperity enshrined in the Shared Vision and Structured Dialogue document agreed to in July 2006.
Turkey and the United States reiterated their determination to continue close cooperation and consultation all issues of common concern. They pledge to contribute to peace and stability in the Middle East and in this context, to support a permanent settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict, including alleviating the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the basis of a two-state solution; to enhance energy security and to expand the Southern corridor of natural gas and oil infrastructure to enable Caspian basin and Iraqi energy producers to reach European and world markets; to promote peace, stability, and prosperity in the south Caucasus, including through U.S. support for the efforts of Turkey and Armenia to normalize relations and joint support for the efforts of the Minsk Group to resolve the Nagorno Karabakh conflict; to continue to cooperate in the Balkans; to support strongly a comprehensive and mutually-acceptable settlement of the Cyprus question under the auspices of the UN and in this context ending the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots; and to enhance their cooperation in the fight against terrorism, particularly against their common enemies, the PKK and al-Qaeda. The United States will continue its intelligence support for Turkish operations against the PKK and is reviewing ways to be more supportive. As members of the G-20, Turkey and the United States pledge continued cooperation to deal with the global economic crisis and efforts to increase and diversify bilateral economic relations with particular emphasis on trade, investment, scientific and technological cooperation.
Secretary Clinton and Foreign Minister Babacan discussed Turkey's accession to the European Union as a member, a goal the United States continues to strongly support, as well as the Government of 20 Turkey's continued emphasis on reform process. With their commitment to Transatlantic relations and as Allies in a strong NATO, they pledge continued cooperation in Afghanistan, including through continued Turkish contributions to Afghanistan. They reiterated their commitment to the sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of Iraq as well as reiterated their support for a democratic, pluralistic, unified and federal Iraq. They also welcome Turkey's deepening relations with the Government of Iraq as evidenced by high level visits as well as trilateral meetings to discuss cooperation against the PKK. Turkey and the United States will strongly back the United Nations Security Council in its work to maintain global peace and security for the prevention and removal of threats to the international community and in this context will cooperate in dealing with issues including terrorism, drug trafficking, organized crime and the threat of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery in the region and beyond.
Finally, they reaffirmed their determination to diversify the broad based bilateral relations particularly between the Turkish and American people. In that context, the Secretary and Minister announced the establishment of "Young Turkey/Young America: A New Relationship for a New Age." This initiative will enable emerging young leaders in Turkey and the United States to develop initiatives that will positively impact peopl e's lives and invest in future ties between the leadership o f our two countries.