US supports Turkey while urging reforms
ANKARA- Hürriyet Daily News | 7/17/2011 12:00:00 AM | Fulya Özerkan
Turkey must get its own house in order in terms of freedoms beforeurging reforms in other countries, US Secretary of State Clinton says
The top U.S. diplomat extended full support over the weekend to Turkey in its fight against terrorism and praised its role in modernization efforts across region, but warned Ankara to clean its own house first.
In her comments, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on Turkey to address concerns over ailing human rights and freedom of expression issues by adopting a new constitution.
“If there is an area that I am concerned about with recent actions, it is the area of freedom of expression and freedom of the media,” Clinton said early Saturday, responding to questions from young Turks at a town hall event.
“I do not think it is necessary or in Turkey’s interests to be cracking down on journalists and bloggers and the Internet,” she said.
Clinton joined the Libya Contact Group meeting in Istanbul on Friday and then held bilateral talks with Turkish government officials and opposition party representatives Saturday. She met separately with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and held a joint press conference with Davutoğlu where she voiced her concerns about deteriorating Turkish democracy.
During her meetings with both ruling and opposition party officials, Clinton raised U.S. concerns over the recent arrests of journalists and Internet bans. “I do not think it is necessary or in Turkey’s interests to be cracking down. It seems to me inconsistent with all the other advances Turkey has made,” she said, adding that Turkey’s institutions should be able to withstand the scrutiny and debate that a free press brings.
Clinton also called on Turkish officials to continue the constitutional reform process, which would push Turkey closer toward European Union membership.
Clinton’s focus on new charter
Americans believe such issues can be addressed in a new constitution for Turkey, the deputy leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP, told the Hürriyet Daily News on Sunday. Clinton held an almost 45-minute meeting with CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu.
“She asked the party leader if the CHP could make any contribution in the new constitution to promote freedoms,” party deputy leader Osman Korutürk said.
“We told her the CHP favors a new charter prioritizing the separation of powers, fundamental rights and freedoms and judicial independence. We believe the draft should include the views of all segments of society, including political party representatives as well as civil society,” Korutürk said. “But first of all, we think this is a matter of mentality. We believe the approach, the mentality should change first.”
Korutürk said the Americans were not openly talking about the backsliding of freedoms in Turkey but that “we have seen a great deal of awareness on the part of the United States regarding rights and freedoms.”
“I think Mrs. Clinton is a very smart, very clever official. It appeared she had studied her lesson very well,” he added.
‘I would stand up for rights’
During the town hall meeting Saturday, Clinton was also asked the question: “Instead of being a member of the U.S. government, let’s assume that you are a member of the Turkish government. What would you change first?”
She replied: “If I were in the Turkish government – which I am not, I say this very respectfully – I would be standing up for freedom of expression and freedom of journalism, freedom of bloggers and the freedom of the Internet.”
During his meeting with Clinton, Kılıçdaroğlu also raised the issue of daily Cumhuriyet journalist Mustafa Balbay, who has been under arrest for three years on charges of membership in the alleged Ergenekon gang. Balbay and fellow Ergenekon suspect Mehmet Haberal were elected as deputies from the CHP but the court has refused to release them.
Clinton told Kılıçdaroğlu that Washington had closely followed the CHP’s refusal to attend an oath-taking ceremony in Parliament, Korutürk told the Daily News, adding that Clinton did not refer to the issue as an “oath-taking crisis” but as the CHP’s decision not to take the oath.
“You’ve brought this issue to the agenda of the public. Finally, you reached a compromise and returned to Parliament,” Clinton told the CHP leader. “This was a wise move.”
Turkish perception on terrorism
Terrorism was another issue discussed in the two officials’ talks. According to Korutürk, Kılıçdaroğlu said the CHP had a perception that Washington is not doing enough, especially concerning the situation in the Kandil Mountains in northern Iraq, where members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, are based. In return, Clinton pledged U.S. support in Turkey’s fight against terrorism.
Meeting with the BDP brass
Clinton also met with the co-chairpersons of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, and Meral Akşener, the deputy leader of the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP.
“We have explicitly explained why we do not take our oaths in Parliament. One of our seats has been taken and six of our deputies were not released from prison,” a BDP official told the Daily News.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, BDP co-leader Selahattin Demirtaş said they informed Clinton about the party’s policies to bring about a solution to the country’s fundamental problems. “Turkey has the potential to solve its own problems through dialogue and consensus. It is up to us, politicians from the ruling and, of course, opposition parties,” he said.
Clinton reaffirms close relationship with Turkey
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Saturday that the United States stands with its ally Turkey against terrorism and threats to internal and regional stability. “Our commitments to Turkey and its security are rock-solid and unwavering,” she said.
The U.S. condemned the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, on every occasion and had extended strong support to the Turkish government to eradicate “PKK terrorism,” Clinton said, adding that the two governments are also engaged in close cooperation in intelligence-sharing for tracking terrorists.
She also emphasized that Washington had included the PKK on its list of terrorism organizations. “[The] U.S. always supports the Turkish army in tracking terrorists and this support will continue,” Clinton said, adding that the United States was aware of the dangers of terrorism.