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Department Seal Francis J. Ricciardone, Special Coordinator for Transition in Iraq
Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs
Press Briefing after Meetings at Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Ankara, Turkey, ApriL 14, 2000

Mr. Ricciardone: It really is a pleasure for me to be here. I feel like I'm back home among friends.

Just a couple of words at the outset and then I'll be glad to respond to your questions. I'm here, because not only my government, but personally as an American diplomat who's worked in Turkey, I believe what Turkey thinks matters. I'm here to participate in the conversations that Assistant Secretary Ned Walker has come to conduct with the Government of Turkey. As you probably know, we carry out consultations at that level twice a year. And it was my privilege to join this conversation, as I have in the past several times.

When I say consultations I mean that. It isn't just to brief the government of Turkey on what we're doing. That's important. We don't want there to be any surprises. But we're here also to hear the Turkish insights, points of view and advice, frankly, on how to manage some of the most difficult problems we face together. And the area that I deal with is among the most tricky and complex problems that we have to manage together. So I had particularly useful conversations today with my colleagues in the Foreign Ministry.

As you know, I deal with Iraq and, I guess the ground rules here have already been explained to you, I'd like to keep the conversation on Iraq, the future of Iraq, working with the Iraqi opposition, and so forth. The other issues, I think, Ambassador Walker addressed briefly with the press that were at the Foreign Ministry today. With that said, please go ahead and ask questions.

Question: It seems that the U.S. bombing of Iraq has been increasing lately. Do you have any...(inaudible)?

Mr. Ricciardone: I'm not aware that there has been an escalation of the bombing there. On that question though, I would only say that the rules of engagement are clear and they're set with the Turkish side. We have Turkish people and Turkish military working very closely on everything that Northern Watch does. That's important to us. It's important to the government of Turkey.

Very clearly, if Saddam Hussein's forces stop shooting at our airplanes, we stop shooting back. Every time we hit a target up there it's because we have been fired at. And if Saddam Hussein stops shooting at us, or his forces stop shooting at us tomorrow, we stop hitting back tomorrow. And every day he doesn't shoot at us is a day we don't shoot at them.

Question: ...Iraqi opposition....(inaudible)

Mr. Ricciardone: As to the Turkish Government's position, I wouldn't presume to speak for the government of Turkey, of course. So it was my purpose to explain very clearly what we are about and let the government of Turkey decide for itself whether that makes sense in Turkish terms. And also again to ask for the advice of the government of Turkey on how we proceed in this very sensitive endeavor.

As to where we are with the opposition and where they are going in the next phase, they could best themselves articulate their plans and programs, but we are reaching a new point with them. Many people don't understand that we have not given one dollar to the Iraqi opposition heretofore. We have spent some money through contractors to help them organize conferences. We have spent some money on humanitarian relief projects, but we have not given any money directly to the Iraqi opposition.

We will begin doing that soon, however, as Assistant Secretary Walker informed the Senate a couple of weeks ago. Very soon we expect to provide the first tranche of direct funding in a very overt and accountable way against a program that they must specify and put in writing for us.

The first bit of that money is going to be about a quarter million dollars, which they plan to use to build their organization, make it more effective as a political organization that can better advocate the interests of the Iraqi people in a free future, in a country that stays together as a whole, where all Iraqis are first-class citizens, where they live in peace, not only with each other, but with their neighbors. We think that is important. Some Iraqis should be saying that. We don't hear that kind of thing coming from the government in Baghdad. So they'll be using the first bit of money to work on those sorts of things.

They will be eligible for training as part of the drawdown authority of the American Department of Defense. Our only plans along those lines are for non-lethal sorts of training that could be useful in rebuilding the country when there is a change, and in making the Iraqi opposition itself more effective as an organization. That's the kind of training I anticipate with them.

I do not anticipate, for the moment, that any arms will be flowing to them. That's some way down the road, at best.

Question: (inaudible)

Mr. Ricciardone: One specific area of advice that I personally asked for from your experts was exactly on this question of what can we do now to help support the unifying tendencies among the Iraqi people against the anti-unifying tendencies which are being promoted by the current Government in Iraq.

We see the current Government in Iraq as setting brother against brother. And I don't mean just the Kurds against the Arabs. I mean Arabs against Arabs. Muslims against Christians. Arabs against Turkomans. We think this is very destabilizing, not just for the short run, but for the long run. And we worry about that.

Our approach in working with an Iraqi national opposition is try to bring all the different elements of Iraq together and stand together as Iraqis, whether they be Kurds or Turkomans or Sunni Arabs or Shiite Arabs. We tell them, "the United States government looks upon you first as Iraqis. You might have your own other identities as well. Many humans do--multiple identities on different levels, communal levels or more national levels. That's up to you. But what matters to the United States is that you identity yourselves as Iraqis who wish to keep your country together." That's the United States approach. That's why we support an Iraqi opposition.

So we value how Turkey looks on this. It's a real problem. There really are people inside Iraq who never ever want to live under a Baghdad that drops gas on them. That's--we think--a fairly normal human reaction. We want all Iraqis to feel that they are first class citizens under a future government, where they don't have to fear that that government is going to repress them, but where, instead, they will take part in the future government--in the cabinets, in the national assembly, in the national economy, in the national education system, etc. So we talked about that a lot.

Question: What was the advice that they gave you?

Mr. Ricciardone: The advice has to be very sensitive. And we are. It's a question of problem management for now. There is no easy answer. There is no immediate solution. But we are not going to do anything in Turkey's backyard up there without staying in very close contact with the government of Turkey. And the people who live there, of course. That's why we are in touch with the free people of Iraq, whether they are living in London or in the Arab world or in the north of Iraq.

Question: ...reaction to a KDP Nevruz reception (inaudible)

Mr. Ricciardone: Nevruz and KDP. You know, I guess that's an issue between the government or Turkey and the KDP. There's really little I can say about that to advance the question.

Question: ...meeting in Washington, D.C. April 17-18 about Kurdish identity. ...(inaudible)

Mr. Ricciardone: Well, of course, I'll let the government of Turkey again speak for itself. But it goes back to the question that you raised of actions by people in Iraq that seem to suggest they want to head toward a separate solution instead of a national solution.

The reason I said yes to the invitation from this prestigious, private American institution, a leader in the conversation on foreign affairs that my government has with the American people, is to make very clear what our policy is and is not. The first thing I did before saying yes, despite their prestige and the access they would give me to important audiences, is to assure myself and the organizers that this had nothing to do with the PKK. Nothing. Nothing to do with Turkey-bashing or analyzing Turkey, putting Turkey on trial. They made that very clear.

The terms of reference are that it is a privilege for me to be able to address these academics, mostly Americans, on American policy toward Iraq, and how we deal with the Iraqi Kurds as Iraqis. It's an important opportunity for me to make clear what we are doing. People naturally have questions. People misunderstand the policy.

We start from the premise, as I will say on Monday, that we want to see an Iraq free and whole--it's national unity, it's territorial integrity preserved. And we work with the Kurds of Iraq, the Turkomans, the Assyrians, the Arabs, the Sunnis, the Shiites, all on that basis, as Iraqis who want to keep their country together and civilize it.

Question: ...status of Kurds in Turkey. ...(inaudible)

Mr. Ricciardone: That could be. I don't know. All I know is what I intend to speak to there. And people understand at these conferences--American diplomats speak with American academic institutions all the time--that when we speak it is to give the U.S. government position on the questions at hand. And our presence does not endorse nor does it limit what other people can say. In my country, as in yours, people are free to say what they want.

You just had a conference on minorities, I understand, down in Antalya. This is the OSCE conference, isn't it? You had Max Vander Stohl come and speak in Antalya. He is a specialist on the minorities in Iraq. It's in that sort of context--what Max said down there didn't endorse what others said.

What I will say, in my being there on Monday at American University, does not imply in any way endorsement for what others will say. I expect a lot of criticism of my government there. I'm certainly not going to endorse that by being there. But I have to respond to it. That's the way it works in a free society.

Question: ...Turkey's operation in northern Iraq. ...(inaudible)

Mr. Ricciardone: On terrorism, our two governments work closely together across the board, whether it's PKK or anyone else. This situation in northern Iraq and Turkey's response to it is not new. I recall that Turkey's dealing with this problem goes back to the 1980's, long before the Gulf War, long before the no-fly zones and all of that. At that time, we supported Turkey's right to defend itself. We've been consistent in supporting Turkey's right to defend itself against terrorism by terrorists who are harbored in neighboring states. I use the word "state" because that's what Iraq is, that's what it was in the '80's when Saddam Hussein was in charge of it.

So we support Turkey's right to defend itself against terrorism. We do it. Turkey does it. We are allies. No question. We've said repeatedly that we expected the Turkish Armed Forces in defending the country will use the most limited force necessary and be scrupulous in protecting the rights of civilians. The Turkish Armed Forces have done so. So we have no complaints with the government of Turkey's national self-defense against terrorism on that score.

On the question of federalism. That's an undefined term as far as the Iraqi's are concerned. So it's difficult. But I can be clear on one point. If anyone using that term implies that they mean federation or separate states, we're against it. We do not support, in fact we oppose, any breakup of Iraq into separate states. If that's what federalism means, we are certainly against it.

It's for all people to decide, however, what kind of national administrative and political organization they want to have. Some countries are more centralized in their politics and administration; some are less centralized.

My country is the United States of America. We decentralize a lot. We have 50 local assemblies, not counting the municipalities, some of which have their own assemblies. We have 50 locally elected governors. We have local taxation authority, etc.

The people of Iraq will decide all together, all of them, how they will live with each other in the future. But our consistent advice to them is, "your best future is in living together with a single Constitution that protects you all. And with you all participating in the national government. But that's just our advice to you."

For America's interests, as that of your neighbors, there is no country in the world that thinks Iraq will be better off, or that our interests will be better off, if there is no longer one Iraq but instead little pieces of Iraq. So we are very clear on that point.

Question: ...next steps in dealing with the PKK. ...(inaudible)

Mr. Ricciardone: I wouldn't presume to tell Turkey how to handle its internal issues, if that's what you are asking me.

On the PKK, we wish Turkey nothing but success. As far as I know, we are the only other government in the world that has in law naming the PKK as a terrorist organization. We are not romantic about them. We don't confuse the PKK for anything but what it is--a terrorist organization. We know the difference between terrorism and legitimate political advocacy. So all we can do is wish Turkey success in dealing with the terrorism problem, and then in dealing with the larger problems that are associated with it.

We are here to support Turkish democracy. That's what we want to see succeed. We won't tell you how to do it. We can't. It's not our job.

Question: ...increased ethnic schism...(inaudible)

Mr. Ricciardone: I'm not sure whether I accept your thesis about increasing racism. I have said very clearly, including to the Iraqi opposition gathered in New York last fall, that the idea of forming governments and political parties on ethnic, racial and religious grounds really bothers Americans. We think that is divisive. It doesn't bring people together. We don't support that at all.

We deal with the parties in northern Iraq as just that--political parties, a very anomalous and temporary regional administration, under a situation that no one would have designed as ideal. We encourage them to work together--not to try to advance the interests of one ethnic group over another. We would like to see the Arabs up there, the Kurds, the Turkomans, the Assyrians work on a basis that is above sectarianism. So that's why we stay in touch with all of them.

Again, we try to deal with them through the umbrella of the Iraqi National Congress, a name chosen deliberately. We don't deal with the Kurds as just Kurds. We deal with Kurds, Turkomans, Assyrians and the others as Iraqis. That's the best we think we can do to try to fight any tendencies toward separatism in northern Iraq.

Question: ...embargo issue...(inaudible)

Mr. Ricciardone: Let me take issue with your last point. We've never been keen on continuing the embargo. On the contrary, when the sanctions regime was set up in August of 1990 and codified in 687 and subsequent resolutions after the Gulf War, it was our hope and our belief, as for all members on the Security Council, I think, that Saddam Hussein would comply very quickly and the sanctions would be over. So we don't look forward to the sanctions staying forever. It is not our purpose to keep the sanctions on.

On the contrary, it is our purpose and desire to see Saddam Hussein's government comply with what he promised to comply with. And see the sanctions totally lifted when he totally complies. But we are not fools. We don't believe he ever will, which is why we think he ultimately has to go.

Now, the other part about the sanctions debate is, people often don't have a good database. They don't know the facts. We have some copies here of the web site, operated by the State Department, where we put out the facts and the figures on the amount of food, medicine, other supplies that have been delivered over the past many years under the oil-for-food program. We want the oil-for-food program to stay in place. On Resolution 1284, we try to make it even more clear how sanctions can be suspended, precisely because we want to get more help to the Iraqi people despite a government that is keeping relief away from them.

In the north where the government cannot interfere, all the measurements of human well-being have improved to pre-Gulf War levels. In the south, where the government gets in the way and prevents UN monitors and prevents international NGOs from overseeing the distribution of food and medicine, that's where people are suffering. The food and medicine is there in the warehouses, you can read the UN's own reporting on that.

So, we have a very different view of the sanctions, I think, than Saddam Hussein portrays to the world. We know that the sanctions regime has caused a special hardship for Turkey. And a good part of Ambassador Walker's discussions with the Foreign Ministry have been on how we can work together to try to ease the burden, not just on the Iraqi people, but to meet Turkish interests as well.

Question: ...PUK and KDP fighting each other....(inaudible)

Mr. Ricciardone: It's a consistently fluid situation, it seems to me. All we can do, through the Ankara process in fact working hand-in-glove with your government, is encourage those two parties to come to terms, live in peace not only with each other, but with all the other people who live in northern Iraq. We shouldn't be under the illusion that there's only two kinds of people in northern Iraq--KDP Kurds and PUK Kurds.

There are many others. Many other Kurds. There are Assyrians with their many parties. There are Turkomans with their many parties. There are Arabs. And through the Ankara process we are encouraging the two major Kurdish parties to come to terms with each other and live in peace. We, through working with the Iraqi opposition, are going beyond that to encourage them all to show the world and show the rest of Iraq that Arabs, Kurds, Turks, Communist, religious parties can all work together in a civilized, democratic way in the future. We think they've actually made some progress toward doing that, but it's difficult.

Thank you.

[end of document]

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