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Special Briefing
Office of the Spokesman
Istanbul, Turkey
November 3, 2007


Briefing by U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker

QUESTION: Do you want to start, talk to us a little bit, or should we just jump into discussion?

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: Fire away.

QUESTION: Can you give us an overview of what the U.S. said to both Turkey and Iraq today on the PKK question and what their responses were back?

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: Well, we listened carefully and closely to Turkish concerns. You know, we understand their position. We understand their outrage. We understand the necessity of concrete things being done on the Iraqi side. But I think the real focus on this, certainly from the U.S.-Turkish dimension now, you know, literally shifts a number of time zones with the Prime Minister's departure right now and then the meeting day after tomorrow in Washington. But again, it's -- we've been clear, obviously, to the Iraqis that, you know, we appreciate their strong statements and we've heard them again from the Foreign Minister and the Prime Minister condemning PKK terrorist attacks and being clear that PKK is a terrorist organization; but beyond saying the right thing, some of the right things are going to have to be done to make a difference in the PKK's ability to carry out these kinds of operations.

QUESTION: Do you assume then that this shift -- the focus shifts a number of time zones, that nothing happens as far as an attack or any other significant developments until after the President meets with Erdogan?

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: Well, again, you know, that's the day after tomorrow. In this part of the world, a lot can happen in 48 hours. But that's -- you know, that'll be a pretty important meeting.

QUESTION: Kim Howells, the British minister, said today that he thought that U.S. and British help would be restricted to intelligence sharing, you know, would not include any military operations. Is that an accurate --

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: I wouldn't speculate at this point. Again, you've got a -- you know, a presidential meeting with the Prime Minister of Turkey in two days time. I think that's going to -- (cell phone rings).

Is that on the record?

QUESTION: We can put it on the record.

QUESTION: Ryan, as you say, the Turks -- the Iraqis say all the right things, but when our people and when we talk to people who go up to the border areas, they say that the PKK are not hard to find, everybody knows where they are; I mean, you can walk and find them, peshmerga are there, even if they're not -- they're not doing anything about it.

What -- we know that the Iraqis closed an office in Irbil today, but what have they concretely said they would do?

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: Well, it's an ongoing discussion. I think what's increasingly important is what they actually do do. And these need to be things that affects the ability of the PKK to carry out cross-border terrorism.

QUESTION: Like what?

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: Well, you can come up with it as easily as I. I mean, it's access, movement, movement of goods, supplies, movement of people, getting a handle on financial flows if they're using banking systems. You know, all the kinds of steps that you've seen in different parts of the world against different terrorist organizations. Those things have to be done, they have to be sustained in a serious way, and they need to have an impact on, again, the PKK's increasing ability -- because you've seen it increase over the last few years -- to launch attacks into Turkey.

QUESTION: What can you tell us about the eight hostages and what kind of impact that will have on KRG participation (inaudible)?

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: Well, we obviously hope for their save and swift release. That's paramount. There's lots of static out there, contacts, predictions and so forth. You know, like most of you, I've been through a hostage issue or two. You know, no predictions from me on where any of this stands until we actually we see their release, which again we hope is soon and with their full safety ensured. But I can't begin to guess how that will play out.

QUESTION: Barzani is the man who really has maybe the key to all this. Have you seem positive moves by him to indicate that his mind is in the right place?

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: Without going into a lot of detail, I mean, there have been a lot of discussions with different elements of the Kurdish leadership and the Kurdish Regional Government. I do think that Iraqis -- the Iraqi Government generally, the Kurdish Regional Government in particular, is pretty clear on how serious this is.

QUESTION: But have they done anything that convinces you (inaudible)?

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: Well, again, a lot of the right things are being said. But as I just said, what's important is to actually see the right things being implemented on the ground.

QUESTION: Ambassador, one of the things that the Turks have expressed frustration about as well as General Ralston a couple of days ago is that also on the American point -- from the American side we've heard a lot of the right things being said but nothing being done there. What can the U.S. be doing as opposed to Iraqis? You know, what are we going to do?

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: Well, again, I'd point you away from me and toward Washington, the day after tomorrow. Obviously, it's going to be a very serious discussion.

QUESTION: But why has it taken so long for us to get to this point where we're actually doing something? I mean, we have somebody, Ralston, for all -- who apparently resigned because of American inaction and wasn't, you know, shy about saying so. This has been -- this isn't exactly a new problem.

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: Well, again, I'm not going to be commenting on what people who are no longer working for the government are saying. Look, if this was an easy issue, it would have been solved a long time ago. It's not. PKK has been up there since before 2003 and they're in that particular area for a reason. It is, as some of you have seen it, it's not inaccessible because they have accessed it and every now and then hold a little press conference or two, which means other people access it as well.

But it's a pretty formidable ground to try to fight on if you're trying to dislodge someone. Again, you know, the Kurds have developed these techniques over the years. Iraq's Kurds held off Saddam's armies in areas very much like that. So this is not an easy issue to get at. And as we have said before, as I've said before, when you're looking at options, you've got to be sure, reasonably sure, that an option you choose is going to fix your problem and not complicate it.

QUESTION: But if we've been sharing intelligence information with the Turks and might have some idea of where they are, why is it so difficult to dislodge them?

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: Well, again, that's a complex issue. I'm not trying to duck it; I'm just saying as the Ambassador to Iraq I'm not the best-positioned person to talk about what our discussions have been with the Turks. Those are not carried out by me. And you know, I just wouldn't want to mislead you on that.

QUESTION: And one more thing, then. You said you don't want to speculate on what the U.S. might do more concretely, but would you rule out something that falls under the -- that would qualify as action, as was demanded by the Foreign Minister yesterday, the Turkish Foreign Minister (inaudible) military action?

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: Well, again, I'm not really in a position to sit here and rule anything in or out on what we might be doing with Turkey, and particularly not two days before the President and the Prime Minister meet.

QUESTION: The Dutch media speak about a joint U.S.-Turkish operation. Is it something that you'll rule out?

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: I'm just not able to rule anything in or out for you.

QUESTION: Do you expect that Bush is going to have some announcement of new U.S. action or, you know, means or something? I mean, otherwise, why not talk about it?

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: Because, again, you've got a meeting taking place in Washington. I'd, you know, ask at the White House.

QUESTION: Have you met with the Iranians while you've been here?

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: I have not, no.

QUESTION: You haven't had any side meetings?

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: No.

QUESTION: And do you anticipate that you'll have any meetings soon in Baghdad with your Iranian counterpart, or is that channel dead?

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: The channel is not dead, as far as we're concerned. And while nothing is firmly scheduled, I would expect that we'll have another round in probably the not-too-distant future. Our Iraqi friends have indicated they'd welcome such a meeting, and I gather at least from the press comments that that was a topic of discussion when Foreign Minister Motaki was in Baghdad a few days ago.

QUESTION: What does the not-too-distant future mean? Does that mean in the next few weeks or months?

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: Yeah, I'd again, without -- because there is not a date set. I'd expect it.

QUESTION: And what would that achieve? What would you discuss in those talks? Because there have been comments recently by General Odierno and others that, in fact, the flow of weapons has decreased in recent months and that there had been some improvements.

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: Well, the agenda doesn't change. I mean, these talks are restricted to security in Iraq. And under that general framework, as we've done in the past, we'd be taking up our concerns with Iranian activities that detract from security rather than add to it.

You know, it's difficult to read trends. You know, when there are reductions, you've got to ask the question, well, what's behind it. In some cases, I think it's just some very effective coalition operations that have reduced the ability of extremist elements to mount attacks. So I do not draw a direct line from data that says there are fewer attacks and conclude it's because of some controlling hand to stop it, maybe because the attackers are no longer in a position to do what they want to do.

QUESTION: Did the Iranians come up with any new ideas here at this conference for Iraq?

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: Certainly none that I heard expressed. The Iranians did propose or, if you can call it that, laid out the notion that coalition forces should be withdrawn and that there should be some kind of condominium of neighboring states, including Iran and Syria, to basically oversee Iraq's further development.

QUESTION: And your response?

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: Well, again, it's probably the kind of fantasy that's not dignified by too much of a reply.

QUESTION: Did they say just neighboring states?

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: I think that --

QUESTION: Did they specify which ones?

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: Well, they certainly specified Iran and Syria.

QUESTION: Is it true that the Iranians were the country, the delegate, that was most resistant to this idea of placing a permanent secretariat representing this meeting in the Iraqi Foreign Ministry, that they held out – they and the Syrians, but they were -- the Iranians were particularly --

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: Yeah, I was not in those working-level discussions, but that's my understanding that the Iranians had a particular problem with it.

QUESTION: Do you know what -- why -- what they were objecting to specifically?

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: I don't because this seems to be something that would be in the interest of the neighbors generally to make this -- if they're interested in the process working, this is a mechanism to help it work better. It could derive from that, but maybe they're not interested in having the process working. I don't know.

QUESTION: Do you -- was there any progress made in trying to get some of the Arabs to reestablish their diplomatic presence in Baghdad or to -- what did they -- what came out of this meeting as far as efforts to get them more involved in Iraq?

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: Well, actually, I've spent kind of the last week on that, visited a number of Iraq's Arab neighbors since last Friday. And in exchanging views on developments in Iraq, I found really pretty much everywhere an interest in seeing how the Arab states can be more effectively engaged in Iraq, including through reopening embassies. Obviously, there are security concerns, but I found a real readiness on the part of just about everybody to look at how they might be positively engaged in Iraq, help develop some of the positive momentum we've seen over the last couple of months, and actually not leave the field to the Iranians.

QUESTION: Could you be a little more specific? Anybody proposing opening an embassy, for instance?

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: Well, the Saudis are well on their way.

QUESTION: Their what?

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: They're well on the way to doing that.

QUESTION: Oh, I see. Why would they -- why would they be beginning construction now when they've resisted this for so long?

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: Well, again, you know, this is not a static situation. I think Iraq fall of 2007 is clearly looking a little bit different than it did a year ago or even six months ago in terms both of a security climate but also, you know, the prospects for political and economic progress, which is more -- you can argue there's just simply more reason now to be involved than they may have seen before.

QUESTION: Is it true there was a top Islamic Revolutionary Guard corps commander here today, Ali Ja'afar Sahraroudi?

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: Not that I've -- I mean, he may have been. This is the first I've heard of it.

QUESTION: You didn't seem him over lunch? He was at table nine.

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: Table nine. (Laughter.) Wish I'd known that then. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: The one that U.S. forces tried to capture in Irbil in January.

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: This is Deputy National Security Advisor?

QUESTION: Yeah.

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: Yeah, Ja'afar Sahraroudi.

QUESTION: He was at Sharm.

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: Yeah, and he's -- I believe he was around --

QUESTION: Stocky guy with a square jaw.

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: I believe he was around for the last trilat we had in Baghdad, not part of the delegation, though. But I didn't know he was here.

QUESTION: Any update on directed assignments? Have you had any further or a sufficient number of volunteers, and when will you know whether you actually have to go through with the orders?

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: Let's see, I think -- again, this is -- I've been on the road since this happened. But I think there was going to be a two-week period from identifying people and we're still in the first week of that so, you know, another week to ten days.

QUESTION: Can I just ask how real you think the military threat from Turkey is, and what form do you think or you understand it might take?

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: Again, in terms of -- you know, I just couldn't and wouldn't speculate on the latter part of that. But on the first, I'd just say, you know, we understand and share Turkish outrage over these attacks. I mean, they've been exceptionally costly in terms of lives lost over the last couple of months, but this isn't something that just happened. I mean, these attacks have been going on for years now. And you know, no country is going to accept that indefinitely.

QUESTION: And yet, you urge restraint. Wouldn't you also understand if they went in militarily?

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: Look, the point on restraint is, as I said earlier, is thinking through, as you look at your options, what are the consequences of those options? You know, are they going to fix the problem? The point is that, you know, steps like that just have to be very, very carefully weighed so that you don't wind up with a worse situation than the one you start with.

QUESTION: But would you get a green light for something like air attacks, like bombing of the Kandil Mountains? I mean, would America kind of (inaudible) turn a blind eye or approve of that kind of option?

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: Well, again, the Turks are not likely to feel they need to seek or need our permission, necessarily. You know, they're a sovereign state with the right to defend their territory.

QUESTION: Do you have any regrets? Do you think there are some actions you could have taken earlier in northern Iraq?

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: Well, again --

QUESTION: Not to let the situation get worsened?

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: I really don't know what other steps there were. We are not now and have not been in a position to sort of go up and occupy all the high places along the border ourselves and, you know, indeed, neither are Iraqi regular forces. And quite frankly, that's probably the only thing that could prevent something like that.

QUESTION: The Turks accuse Barzani of supporting the PKK. Have you seen any evidence of that?

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: No, I haven't. And again, I think it's important to keep some perspective on this. Both the KDP and PUK have had a history of conflict with the PKK. So I certainly haven't seen anything that would persuade me that the mainstream Kurdish parties up there are in any way supporting this. And again, the history of their relations with the PKK would argue pretty strongly against it.

QUESTION: But they have a history of conflict between them, too, so -- (laughter).

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: Yeah. (Laughter.) There is --

QUESTION: And now they go in together, so I mean, it's -- they've found a common ground.

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: Yeah, that's -- (laughter). So they have. I mean, there's no shortage of conflict in the region, unfortunately.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) is demanding publicly is (inaudible) actually closing (inaudible) or that PKK commanders, a couple of commanders who could just hand it over, because there's all this talk about (inaudible) all very long term and (inaudible) the public are actually (inaudible) something much more and much more difficult. Is that realistic by Monday's meeting, I mean, or -- (laughter). I mean, is it something that could be announced in Monday's meeting?

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: Well, again, I don't know. Those questions have to go back to Washington.

Certainly though, I think that if people at whatever level are moving back and forth, then steps should be taken to apprehend them. And that includes, you know, roads, tracks, trails. It would include airports if people are flying in. I mean, just, you know, presumably they don't all sit up there on the mountain for, you know, years --

QUESTION: They fly to France and Austria and back to northern Iraq, and you stop them.

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: One hears.

QUESTION: Wouldn't this naturally draw the Kurds into some kind of a conflict with the PKK, if they're arresting their leaders and threatening (inaudible) we're in a situation where things are getting more out of hand than perhaps they are already.

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: Well, again, you have to take a look at the situation and certainly, in our judgment, the status quo isn't viable, it isn't sustainable. Steps are going to have to be taken.

QUESTION: What would the Turks accept? Publicly, they're saying we want the accounts closed and the leaders arrested. But talking to them, you know, what do you think that they would accept?

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: Well, again, I'm actually talking to the folks on the south side of the line. It's probably best to direct you to my colleague or the Turks themselves.

QUESTION: And what have they set down -- the Iraqi Kurds? (Inaudible) they're not willing to extradite anybody, they're not going to get in conflict with the PKK, they just want amnesty and a political solution to this. And they also, you know, say the Turks won't even talk to Iraqi Kurdistan, won't recognize it. So it seems like a nonstarter.

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: Well, again, to get at this problem in a way that fundamentally changes the dynamic, I think everybody is going to have to take a look at what they can do that maybe they haven't before. And you know, that includes, obviously, Iraqis, including Kurds. It also includes Turks and includes ourselves. Some things need to be done I think quickly and immediately, and the Turkish people need to see that. The larger and broader problem is going to take time and I think a lot of effort to get at. This wasn't created overnight and it's not going to go away overnight.

QUESTION: Can you be more specific about the things that the Iraqis could do quickly that the Turkish people need to see and that you expect they will?

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: Well, I kind of went through that. And that's steps, you know -- that isn't set in stone. Those are some things that just seem like both reasonable and necessary steps.

QUESTION: Why shouldn't the Turkish Government not take the comments you've just made about the right of a country to defend itself and so forth and other sympathetic comments that have come out of the U.S. Government as an indication that, if they decide to invade and occupy that portion of Iraqi Kurdistan, nothing terrible is going to them? What would happen? What would you do? Relatively speaking.

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: Well, we've also said on a number of occasions that we would not want to see actions that are likely to create further destabilization and insecurity in a sensitive area. And presumably, neither would they. And that's what I was saying earlier; you know, there are a lot of options about there, but you've got to think about them because things like that are going to have consequences.

QUESTION: But I mean, what kind of consequences? I'm trying to imagine what the U.S. Government would do in response to such an action, and I can't really think of anything.

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: I'd suggest you look at it a little more broadly. It's not really, I think, fundamentally a question of what the U.S. Government would do. It'd be what kind of situation do you want to have.

QUESTION: So, like, what, it would become like southern Lebanon for them?

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: You know, I have no idea what it would become like, but I would certainly think they'd want to think about it very carefully.

QUESTION: Kurds in northern Iraq often claim that the Turks really want to come in and dislodge them and remove -- dismantle the government. Are they just being paranoid or do you have any reason to think that could ever happen?

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: Well, again, it's -- you know, there is obviously a lot of emotion, fear, concern among all the parties. I think it's another reason to have some -- you know, some serious discussions just to dispel some of that. Certainly, Turkish officials I've heard over the last few days have made it very clear that that's directed to PKK.

QUESTION: Not the Kurdish government.

QUESTION: You're talking about this immediate action and need for something the Turks can see. I mean, in your understanding from the discussions that have taken place, I mean, how likely do you think that is that something so tangible, so sellable to the Turkish public, is going to happen?

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: Well, again, I am not in a position to talk about or speculate on how things would be received in Turkey, but I think it is reasonable to expect that the Iraqis could mount some steps, some actual practical steps on the ground that people can see. What impact that would have, I don't know (inaudible).

QUESTION: (Inaudible) the kind of (inaudible) they’ve been demanding. It doesn’t sound like the sort of golden solution is in the offing.

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: Well, look, there are a lot of problems in and around Iraq, and not many of them are amenable to quick flips of the switch and gold solutions.

QUESTION: Just to go back to the Iranians (inaudible), do you think that as a policy it's a good idea to continue speaking to the Iranians about Iraq even if you don't necessarily feel that you're making progress?

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: You know, I think on issues like that, it's worth exercising a little bit of patience. We haven't talked to the Iranians in a very long time. We started this discussion about five months ago, have had just a couple of rounds of it. Let's see where it goes. I mean, my expectations are under control. But I think it's worth pursuing.

QUESTION: Did you or anyone talk to the Iranians at this event?

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: I did not.

QUESTION: Do you know if anybody --

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: I'm not aware of anyone that did.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Syrians?

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: Yeah, I believe there was a conversation with a Syrian.

QUESTION: At what level?

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: At the Secretary's level.

QUESTION: A bilateral meeting?

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: Yes.

QUESTION: A lengthy bilateral meeting or just a sort of pull-aside?

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: I think it was more of the latter.

QUESTION: Pull-aside.

QUESTION: And it was only on Iraq?

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: Sorry?

QUESTION: Only on Iraq? The subject was just (inaudible)?

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: I think it probably would cover more than that, but that's probably something you'd better ask Sean about.

QUESTION: Lebanon?

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: Reasonable to expect, but I'd steer you towards Sean.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) ask a question on the staffing. In her cable, the Secretary said that it was you who had said that there was a need for additional positions in the Embassy. Can you tell us why? What -- are these political positions, economic? Why did you think you need more people? Because there is this perception in Washington that it was a lot of the people at the Embassy just sit and use their phones and emails, something they could have done -- you know, could do out of Washington, not sit there and type that. Why do you need those people?

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: Well, as some of you know, when I came out there, very shortly after I arrived I asked the Secretary if Pat Kennedy could come out. He is our ultimate management guru in the Foreign Service -- again, as you know. He came out. We sat down. I gave him some of my thoughts. And then he spent some weeks just looking at how we were staffed, how we were organized, what we were trying to get done, and came up with some proposals that included increasing -- actually, shifting more than increasing, but a net increase in political and economic positions. Because again, as you look at what the Iraqis are trying to get done and what we're trying to help them do, those are kind of the main avenues of activity. On the economic side, to try to help them with capacity development, budget execution and so forth, you kind of need people to worth those issues, both to analyze and to advise. Politically, an incredibly complex situation. There are laws that need to get passed and we've got an interest in helping things like that get done, which means you've got to be active both with the executive branch, with the legislative branch. It takes people to do that.

So you know, we have been working to get those -- once we agreed on the positions we felt we needed, made the recommendations back. The Secretary approved them. We're going to try to get them staffed up.

MODERATOR: I'm sorry, we just have time for one more quick question.

QUESTION: To what extent do you think this meeting was hijacked or overshadowed by the PKK thing?

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: It wasn't.

QUESTION: It wasn't?

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: It wasn't.

QUESTION: Not at all? Well, there was a lot of discussion though, wasn't there?

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: Again, there was a trilateral, the Secretary with the Foreign Ministers of Iraq and Turkey. That focused exclusively on the PKK issue.

QUESTION: Okay.

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: The Turks, I think, conducted a very good, broad-gauged conference that -- and the plenary was looking at the whole range of issues that -- where the neighbors can have a role in affecting outcomes in Iraq.

QUESTION: And what was the biggest achievement along those lines?

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: I think the one that will have the most significance is the decision to set up the coordinating mechanism, because that gives you something permanent; you don't hopscotch from working group to working group with no connections in between. Now you've got something that will tie the various initiatives together, and I think that's an important step.

QUESTION: Could you just tell us, what does that -- that consists of having the Secretary in Baghdad and having actual people whose --

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: Right.

QUESTION: -- job is -- and do we know who those people are going to be? Are they going to be from the member-states (inaudible)?

AMBASSADOR CROCKER: To be determined. I think the United Nations is going to provide some initial staffing support. It'll operate out of the Iraqi Foreign Ministry so they're obviously involved from the get-go. And then I think once you've got that kind of initial core up and running, then others can come in as they desire or as is warranted.

QUESTION: Thank you.

2007/T18-7



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