US envoy indirectly joins presidential system debate in Turkey

US envoy indirectly joins presidential system debate in Turkey

US envoy indirectly joins presidential system debate in Turkey

Hürriyet Photo/Rıza Özel

The American administrative system, composed of three separate but co-equal branches of government, is the result of 238 years of experimentation and refinement, with a rigorous set of checks and balances so power is distributed across all three branches, the U.S. envoy to Ankara has said, indirectly joining an intense local debate launched by the ruling party over how the Turkish presidential system should be.

“Our president is our head of state and our head of government, but he does not exercise full power to do anything, anywhere, at any time. He is bound by a set of laws, he has to live within the budget that is approved by Congress and his actions are subject to oversight and scrutiny by Congress,” the U.S. Ambassador to Turkey, John Bass, told NTV in an interview Feb. 6. “So, for us, we have found that to be a very effective system, and, obviously, if others see value in our structures for their societies, that is a matter for them to decide.”

Bass’ statement came at a time when President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is gearing up his efforts to highlight the need to change the administrative system from the current parliamentarian one to a presidential system, either like France’s semi-presidential model or the U.S. presidential system.

“It is an issue for Turkish citizens to decide. It properly, from our perspective, should be a matter of public discussion and debate and one that involves respect for as wide a range of views as possible while changes are considered and evaluated in society,” Bass said.

The following is a summary of Bass’ responses during the interview with NTV:

On the Ankara-Washington relationship: “It is important for us to continue to work together. We do have our differences sometimes on tactics and on priorities, but that is why we continue to work so closely together to address them, because we believe we are always stronger when we work together. (…) We are still strategic partners. As I said, we have differences over tactics. We have differences over relative priorities of some of the threats we face.  But the things that we share in common are still fundamentals and they are the foundation of the relationship.”

On U.S.-based Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen’s deportation: “I cannot comment specifically about an individual.  What I can tell you is that in every case in which one of our allies and partners presents a request for extradition, or a request for a legal proceeding against one of their nationals who is present in the United States, we look at that and evaluate it very carefully, very rigorously, involving two of our three separate but co-equal branches of government – in this case, the ministry of justice and the court system.  And we would evaluate the evidence that was presented and make a determination.”

On the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) as the priority: “From our perspective, we believe that the most acute threat we face and that the region faces right now is the threat posed by DAESH [ISIL]. That’s why we are putting such a weight of effort behind supporting all of those parties in the region who are working through the coalition to combat this problem, to increase support to the Iraqi government, to increase support to those elements in Syria that are already fighting DAESH and are prepared to do more in that fight, even as we continue to take steps to strengthen the moderate Syrian opposition to pressure the [Syrian President Bashar] al-Assad regime to come back to the table.”

On reactions against the United States: “I would say a couple things. First, I think our record of support for people of this region seeking to choose their own futures has been quite strong through this period. I have to say I am disturbed by some of what I read and hear in the Turkish press from many people in this society, alleging or asserting that somehow Western policy or attitudes in the United States or in Europe are responsible for the rise of this group of people who are hijacking a religion for their own cynical, violent political ends. And again, I think this is an issue where it is useful to take a look at the facts and not simply concentrate on opinion. The fact of the matter is that the United States spends $7 billion a year in foreign assistance to five Muslim majority nations. Five of our top six recipients of U.S. foreign assistance are Muslim nations. So, the notion that this is somehow the result of a perspective in the United States that opposes Islam simply could not be further from the truth.”
On meeting with Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) head Selahattin Demirtaş: “I meet with a wide range of people in society, in government, outside of government. It is part of our effort to understand what is going on in Turkey. I met with Mr. Demirtaş, along with the heads of many of the political factions. The choices that the HDP is making are theirs to make. And they are clearly evaluating the electoral landscape and making, from their perspective, an informed decision. We will see how they do in the election. I think the important thing here is that the election occurs, and the campaign occurs, in a way that allows for every citizen of Turkey who will be voting to have an opportunity to hear from a range of parties and a range of perspectives and to make an informed choice when they go to vote.”

On the U.S. position on the mass killing of Armenians: “I cannot speak to how the events will be characterized in whatever the president or Congress chooses to say on the anniversary, but, I can tell you that our policy hasn’t changed. Our policy is that we believe that a full, frank and just acknowledgement of the facts surrounding those terrible massacres and tragedies in 1915 is in the interest of the citizens of Turkey, it is in the interest of the citizens of Armenia and it is in the interest of the descendants of people who suffered in that period.”

On U.S. participation in the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Gallipoli: “It is too early to say how we will be represented in Gallipoli. I would say, with respect to the timing of the commemorations, you know there is so much depth of feeling and so much suffering that occurred in 1915 among many populations that, I think, from our perspective, we think that commemorations should occur in a way that allows every community that suffered to commemorate the events in a way and in a manner that is respectful of the dead and that allows them in their own ways to acknowledge that suffering and to commemorate their dead respectfully.”