From: Barbara Plett-INTERNET
Sent: Wednesday, August 24, 2016 10:27
To: Goodman, Meghan Hays K. EOP/OVP
Subject: VPotus Traveling Pool Report #3 Turkey Briefing
08.24.16: Turkey Briefing by Senior Administration Official
Main goal of the trip is to make sure our alliance remains rock and solid and relations get back on track because we have a lot of business to do with the Turks re countering ISIL, dealing with Syria/Iraq issues, the Kurdish question. Neither one of us can afford to have that relationship too strained at the moment
There are strains but relationship not on the brink of a rupture.
In public the VP will very much emphasize solidarity with the Turkish people through this traumatic experience and also the imptc of making sure the relationship and alliance stay on track given all the stuff we have to do; in private with Turkish officials they’ll have conversations about the general perceptions of things inside Turkey and how that can be counterproductive
What would your reaction have been if the president of another country came to New York five weeks after 9/11 and lectured us about the Patriot Act, would most Americans have applauded that? Probably not, so my sense is that’s probably not the right approach to take (with Turkey’s post coup crackdown)
Nobody better suited than VP to communicate the message directly from Prez Obama that we have Turkey’s back, that we have the leadership’s back, we understand the trauma the people and govt went through;
general message is we are working this as hard as we can, devoting as many resources as we can, pouring over evidence
The Turks have submitted four separate extradition requests for Gulen, but all related to allegations of criminal behavior that predated the coup
They have not provided extradition requests on anything related to Gulen’s involvement re coup attempt; also provided no evidence to us at all of Gulen’s possible connections to the coup
We are taking extradition request very seriously, DOJ has more lawyers on this case than any recent extradition case we’ve done
But neither President nor VP cannot decide this unilaterally, that would be illegal
we can work with the Turks to present evidence to court, but court decides if passes probable cause threshold for extradition
And if we are perceived as politicizing this too much could be counter productive in encouraging a court to approve extradition
In Northwest Syria, some of the Syria Defense Forces, which includes Kurdish forces, moved a few kilometers north of Manbij, north of the agreed forward line of troops a few days ago; Turks got worried they were making a ‘jailbreak’ for the border
We made it clear to SDF we don’t and won’t support them going north, and they can’t without our air cover, so we’ve put a lid on them moving north. We’re living up to assurances to the Turks that Kurds won’t move north; the SDF stopped
Turks have started to plan operation against ISIL in Jarablus near the border, partly to create a buffer against the possibility of the Kurds moving forward
We are working with them on that potential operation: our advisors are communicating with them on the Jarablus plan, so syncing up with them, we’ll give close air support if there’s an operation
VP will go to parliament building which was attacked during coup
Opportunity to meet with parliamentarians, tour of the damage
Show right off the bat our solidarity with the Turkish people, no better way to show that than go to one of the scenes of the crime
Then bilat and working lunch with Yildirim, joint presser, then mtg with Erdogan
Main goals of trip obvious
Lot of uncertainty following coup attempt, Turkey feels hasn’t had enough support from the West in general, some claims by Turkish officials that US not sufficiently supportive; certain conspiracy theories that we had something to do with the coup, which is not the case, we were one of the first to denounce the ongoing coup attempt before it was resolved
But this was an extraordinarily traumatic event, a lot of Turks refer to this as their 9/11, but it’s as if they had their 9/11 and it was an inside job, b/c betrayal by a portion of military and existential threat to their democracy
Understand their frustration esp since most believe that Fethulleh Gulen network was behind the coup and that he himself was involved, so the fact that he resides in the US a great source of frustration, requests for him to be extradited, so that will be a big portion of what gets talked about
But major goal of the trip is to make sure that our alliance remains rock solid and relations get back on track, bc looking into Syria, we have a lot of business to do with the Turks re countering ISIL in Syria, dealing with issues in Iraq, the Kurdish question inside Syria, a lot of things going on in our relationship right now, neither one of us can afford to have that relationship be too strained at the moment
Q: Given the strains, and the limits of what can be achieved in one visit, what would be a good outcome?
The strains need to be put in perspective, there are certainly strains, there’s criticism of us, that we were not fast and assertive enough in denouncing the coup, but relationship not on the brink of a rupture, if the VP wasn’t coming on this trip it’s not as if Turkey leaving NATO or that the strategic partnership’s going to dissolve; we just want to make sure the Turkish govt and people understand our commitment to their democracy and to the alliance
We can’t afford any friction b/c we have a lot of business to do with the Turks on Syria, ISIL, Kurdish question; nobody better suited than VP to communicate the message directly from Prez Obama that we have Turkey’s back, that we have the leadership’s back, we understand the trauma the people and govt went through; we need to continue to have conversations about Gulen even as we cooperate on the other issues, so success is simply having that conversations, nobody better to have it than the VP
How much will VP raise concerns about response to coup?
Turkish officials have said it’s impt that they conduct investigations in compliance with rule of law and we agree; in his public statements the VP will very much emphasize solidarity with the Turkish people through this traumatic experience and also the imptc of making sure the relationship and alliance stay on track given all the stuff we have to do; in private with Turkish officials they’ll have conversations about the general perceptions of things inside Turkey and how that can be counterproductive, not only for relations with us, but there are also concerns in Europe, among the business community, so impt that this stuff gets done in the rule of law, expect that to be more an emphasis in private
Let me put it this way: What would your reaction have been if the president of another country came to New York five weeks after 9/11 and lectured us about the Patriot Act, would most Americans have applauded that? Probably not, so my sense is that’s probably not the right approach to take (with Turkey)
Q: what can you tell them about Gulen that would be reassuring but also consistent with US values
There are some unreasonable expectations in the sense that nothing would be permanently reassuring unless Gulen on the plane and we were delivering him
But the reality is: about a week after the coup the Turks submitted four separate extradition requests for Gulen, about 15 feet worth of evidence, narrative, records
But all related to allegations of criminal behavior that predated the coup, mostly 2015 and prior, requests they’d been working on for a long time that accelerated after the coup
So DOJ and SD legal folks pouring over boxes to see if crosses the evidentiary threshold of probable cause for extradition under our treaty
If so then goes to an independent court for decision
Some things to keep in mind:
1: the Turks have not provided extradition request on anything related to Gulen involvement re coup attempt; also provided no evidence to us at all of Gulen’s possible connections to the coup
2: we are taking extradition request very seriously, DOJ has more lawyers on this case than any recent extradition case we’ve done
3: team of DOJ and SD legal experts in Ankara meeting with Turkish counterparts to follow up on evidence provided, seeking clarification, seeking additional evidence
So general message is we are working this as hard as we can, devoting as many resources as we can, pouring over evidence: if more give it to us, if extradition request related to coup, give it to us
But, neither President nor VP cannot decide this unilaterally, that would be illegal
Not how our system works, clear in the treaty: we can work with the Turks to present evidence to court, but court decides if passes probable cause threshold
So not in executive discretion, relevant to the fact that there’s a lot of inflated expectations about how this process evolves: ie that you could put him on a plane if you had the political will, but that would be illegal
And if we are perceived as politicizing this too much could be counter productive in encouraging a court to approve extradition
Will that be hugely reassuring to Turks? Don’t know, but it’s the truth and how our system works
Can make that point and the point that we can’t make our relationship be defined on this one thing, so much else at stake
Q: is what’s happening on the border with Jarablus endangering US plans for what’s supposed to happen there, ie that Turks feel need to fight directly against Kurdish force in Syria and the US broken promise to keep the Kurds on the other side of the river?
Not at all; been talking with the Turks for more than a year about constructs for ops that would involve moderate Syria oppo against ISIL along 60 mile gap btw the Euphrates and Mara Line that ISIS still controls…talked about ops in Jarablus b/c one of the main super highways to get foreign fighters and material into Syria, so been in our collective sights for a long time
For a while the Turks were so focused on relationship with the opposition and the opposition’s orientation against Assad that not as focused on clearing ISIL from this gap, the Manbij pocket
Question becomes the effect of the timing of this operation: we, with full visibility with the Turks, supported the Syria Democratic Force, the force that went after Manbij city, primarily Arab but also Kurds; Turks weren’t crazy about that op but were informed, we made clear those Kurdish forces would pull back after the op
Are they? Need several more weeks of clearing and stabilizing before they pull back, so nothing in our arrangements with Turks as relates to Kurds eventually going back over the river that’s been violated.
What happened a few days ago: a group of SDF moved about 4 km north of the agreed forward line of troops to seize some high ground to defend area they’d cleared, but went further north than we wanted them to and than the Kurds were comfortable with, and Jarablus is north of that. So I think the Turks were afraid that they were making a jail break for the border, so they rallied opposition forces to clear ISIL from Jarablus: to get ISIL off the border, but also I think to create a buffer against the possibility of the Kurds moving forward
What we’ve done:
We want to help the Turks get ISIL off the border; we’re providing ISR, air cover, advisors communicating with them on plan for Jarablus, so syncing up with them, our advisors in the planning cell with them; we’ll have close air support if there’s an operation
Secondly, we’re living up to assurances that Kurds won’t move north; the SDF stopped, made it clear to them we don’t and won’t support them going north, and they can’t without our air cover, so we’ve put a lid on them moving north. So I think we’ve put a lid on the Turks’ biggest concern, gives us breathing space to make sure Jarablus op done the right way
A few days ago the Turks lobbed artillery as warning shots at Kurds perceived as moving north, those 4 km: thou shall not pass; that’s a big problem bc we don’t want direct clash btw those forces and the Turks, there are coalition special ops forces involved in Manbij, not a good scenario
The artillery reported in last 24 hours is against Jarablus, no Kurds there, it’s against ISIS, so shaping or softening up operation for a move on Jarablus
Q: what’s happening btw the Turks/Russians/Iran: joint ops?
No one knows full extent of conversations; Turkey a NATO ally, not leaving the alliance, no strategic pivot expected towards Russia and Iran; seeing progression of re-normalization of relations which soured after the Turks shot down Russian jet; this started happening before coup attempt and normalization issues were accelerated by the coup attempt; and re-normalization of ties a good thing, bc we don’t need that level of friction and military tension btw a NATO ally and Russians, bc after the shoot down of the Russian aircraft things got even more intense and messy in NW Syria, difficult for Turks to participate in air ops b/c of Russian threats to shoot them down; so as it relates to counter ISIL campaign and friction btw NATO ally and Russia it’s a good thing
Re bigger picture: and this is Off the Record: there appears to be a broader Kurdish play going on among the Turks; I think they believe the Russians and Iranians have their own avenues of influence into the YPG and the PKK, and that they may be engaging Moscow and Tehran to contain or restrain the Kurds a bit; if you pull threads together: The Turks are cozy with Barzani, he was in Ankara yesterday, they see Barzani as a Kurdish counterweight to PKK and YPG; at the same time there’s some outreach to Moscow and Tehran that could also have a Kurdish angle, and the Turks keep pushing us to contain Kurdish expansion in that Manbij pocket b/c don’t want the Kurds to close the pocket and create an autonomous state; and if you put that together with Yildirim statements recently, some flexibility on Assad, doesn’t have to go right away, can go in transition, which is moving towards our position, but also emphasizing that Syria has to remain a unified state, everyone interpreted that as no independent Kurdish state, I think if you pull these threads together that’s probably what’s going on
So Turks moving closer to US rather than Russia position on Assad?
If the point is that Assad can be part of the transition and then needs to depart, that’s our policy, that’s what Yildirim said, that sounds like our policy…Russian argument is that not wedded to Assad as person, don’t know who altv is and it’s not our call, it’s the call of the Syrian people. I think there’s more overlap btw these two narratives and if there’s ever a political solution it will be in that overlap; the Turks were way off to the side on that before, having a hardline on Assad going, wanted upfront commitment; that appears to have softened and that’s probably productive
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