US envoy concerned about Turkey’s China missile deal, praises intelligence chief
US Ambassador to Turkey Francis Ricciardone met with journalists on Oct 24 in Ankara. DAILY NEWS photo / Selahattin Sönmez
The top U.S. diplomat in the country has sung the praises of Turkey’s top intelligence official, who has recently been the target for harsh criticisms in international media, particularly in some U.S. leading newspapers.
Being generous with the praise of the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) Undersecretary Hakan Fidan, U.S. Ambassador Francis Ricciardone was blunt to the same extent of his generosity, as he was speaking of his administration’s position over Ankara’s decision to co-produce a long-range air and missile defense system with a Chinese firm under U.S. sanctions.
News reports in U.S. media concerning Fidan resembles the presence of various points of views, which is the case when speaking of a free and democratic country, whether it be the United States or Turkey, Ricciardone said on Oct. 24, speaking with members of the Diplomacy Correspondents’ Association (DMD). He made clear that Washington’s governmental views on particular issues can only be interpreted through statements from officials.
“I have had the personal as well as the official privilege and pleasure of meeting Mr. Fidan many times and I have been working with him very substantively on issues of common concern,” said Ricciardone, praising the bureaucrat who has recently come under fire for allegedly misconducting Turkey’s Syria policy and cooperating with the Iranian government to the detriment of regional Israeli intelligence interests.
Refusing to engage in “a guessing game” about the motives of these articles and holders of those motives, Ricciardone added: “I have the greatest respect for him both personally and officially. He is certainly a dedicated, loyal, competent high official of your government in one of the most responsible, difficult and sensitive positions. It is a privilege and pleasure to work with him. I always learn a lot when I meet with him.”
US seriously concerned over Turkey’s China decision
As conveyed through remarks by Ricciardone, the White House’s position over Ankara’s prospective deal with China is quite clear-cut. Such deal will have an impact on decades-long bilateral defense cooperation between the two longstanding NATO allies, since Turkish companies involved will be subject to U.S. sanctions.
“We are very concerned about the prospective deal with the sanctioned Chinese firm. Yes this is a commercial decision, it is Turkey’s sovereign right, but we are concerned about what it means for the allied air defense,” Ricciardone told reporters, as he underlined that the issue is now “a strategic mutual defense question.”
Welcome to the big league
He elaborated in detail on the history of the Turkish-U.S. defense cooperation and listed Turkish companies involved in this cooperation by name, such as Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI), before he said: “So Turkish-American defense industrial cooperation is intense and longstanding. We take pride in being there at the beginning and helping Turkish defense industry get off the ground, especially in aviation. And all those companies would be impacted if any of them deal with a company that is under U.S. sanctions. “
In response to insistent questions on whether articles about Fidan actually targeted Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his government, Ricciardone said it would be “ridiculous” to expect some articles could ever affect the independence, sovereignty and prosperity of a country, either Turkey or the United States.
“We don’t assume that the government of Turkey is upset with us every time somebody writes something critical in a blog or some anonymous source gets something into mainstream media. We listen to it, that’s life in the big sea. Turkey is a big, important country. People in the U.S. pay attention to Turkey. Some aren’t happy with it. Welcome to the big league?”
Role of media ‘olmazsa olmaz’
Ricciardone was reminded of statements by journalists’ organizations in which they exposed long lists of journalists fired due to their stance regarding this summer’s anti-government protests during and after the Gezi Park unrest.
Also reminded of his remarks in the past in which he expressed concern over the freedom of press in Turkey, he was asked whether he believed that the situation was getting worse. He said leaving the assessment of the current situation in comparison with the past to professional organizations would be appropriate.
“I can tell you that we are concerned because the role of the media is ‘olmazsa olmaz’, it is vitally necessary in any democracy,” Ricciardone said, however, using the Turkish phrase “olmazsa olmaz,” for “sine qua non.”
He described the free media as “the lifeblood of democracy,” adding notably that this media should not be composed solely of pro-government institutions.