Panetta Praises Turkey for Leadership in Region and Beyond

ANKARA, Turkey, Dec. 16, 2011 — Defense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panet­ta praised Turk­ish lead­ers today for their lead­er­ship in the region at a time of sweep­ing change, includ­ing its efforts to quell the Syr­i­an government’s vio­lent crack­down and to pre­vent Iran from tam­per­ing that could pre­vent progress.

Dur­ing what he called “very com­pre­hen­sive” meet­ings here today with Pres­i­dent Abdul­lah Gul, Defense Min­is­ter Ismet Yil­maz… and Chief of the Gen­er­al Staff Gen. Necdet Ozel…, the sec­re­tary said they also reaf­firmed the impor­tance the U.S.-Turkey rela­tion­ship in con­fronting oth­er press­ing secu­ri­ty chal­lenges in the region and the world.

“Turkey is a key NATO ally and a very crit­i­cal secu­ri­ty part­ner for the Unit­ed States, Panet­ta told reporters fol­low­ing today’s meet­ings.

Panet­ta com­mend­ed Turkey for pro­vid­ing secu­ri­ty in Kab­ul as part of the NATO-led Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force mis­sion in Afghanistan, an effort he said that with Turkey’s help has now reached “an impor­tant turn­ing point.”

The sec­re­tary also expressed sol­i­dar­i­ty with Turkey in its fight at home against the ter­ror­ist PKK orga­ni­za­tion. “My dis­cus­sions here in Ankara made very clear that the Unit­ed States will con­tin­ue to assist Turkey in con­fronting this threat,” Panet­ta told reporters, includ­ing pro­vid­ing tech­nol­o­gy to assist them in the effort.

“We are pre­pared to dis­cuss fur­ther efforts to try to improve the tech­nol­o­gy and those capa­bil­i­ties,” he said. “We con­tin­ue to explore oth­er steps that can be tak­en to assist Turkey in the effort to deal with the PKK.”

Panet­ta also not­ed Turkey’s role in prepar­ing NATO to deal with emerg­ing threats, includ­ing its deci­sion to host a for­ward-based radar for the NATO mis­sile defense sys­tem.

“I think Turkey rec­og­nizes that it is impor­tant for this coun­try to be a part of that defense shield,” he said.

Rec­og­niz­ing objec­tion to the sys­tem, most vocal­ly from Rus­sia, the sec­re­tary empha­sized that the sys­tem is designed to pro­tect NATO coun­tries, includ­ing Turkey, from attack.

“These are steps being tak­en in the defense of NATO,” he said. “Ulti­mate­ly, oth­er coun­tries whether they like it or don’t like it, are going to have to accept that fact.”

Panet­ta empha­sized dur­ing today’s meet­ings the impor­tance of Turkey and Israel resolv­ing their dif­fer­ences so they can work togeth­er as in the past to pro­mote region­al secu­ri­ty and sta­bil­i­ty. “I believe that it is Turkey’s inter­est and in Israel’s inter­est for the two to move for­ward” in their rela­tion­ship so they are bet­ter able to deal with the dif­fi­cult issues con­fronting the region, he said, express­ing con­fi­dence that they will.

Mean­while, the sec­re­tary laud­ed Turkey’s lead­er­ship dur­ing “Arab Spring” tran­si­tions in the region.

“Turkey and the Unit­ed States share the goal that hope­ful­ly these changes can pro­duce pos­i­tive results in the future for the peo­ple and the nations that have gone through this tur­moil,” Panet­ta said. “I think this rep­re­sents a time of tremen­dous oppor­tu­ni­ty” in terms of advanc­ing rights and open­ing doors for the peo­ple of the region, he said.

Panet­ta praised Turkey for its lead­er­ship in call­ing for Syr­i­an Pres­i­dent Bashar Assad to step down, and said he believes he believes it’s inevitable that it will hap­pen, par­tic­u­lar­ly if inter­na­tion­al pres­sure con­tin­ues.

“We have seen what has hap­pened else­where, and I believe that at some point it is going to hap­pen in Syr­ia as well,” he said. “But in order for that to hap­pen, I think it is impor­tant, not only for Turkey and the Unit­ed States, but the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty to con­tin­ue to bring pres­sure on Syr­ia, on the Assad regime to do the right thing.”

Panet­ta said he is encour­aged that the Unit­ed Nations, includ­ing Rus­sia, as well as oth­er Arab nations and the Arab League have joined the effort to pres­sure Syr­ia.

“The best thing right now is the uni­ty of the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty in deliv­er­ing that mes­sage,” he said. “That kind of uni­fied effort, … [and] uni­fied pres­sure, I think, is ulti­mate­ly going to pay off.”

Panet­ta also called Turkey an impor­tant part­ner in rein­ing in Iran­ian tam­per­ing dur­ing this peri­od of tran­si­tion in the region.

“We have urged Iran to join the fam­i­ly of nations, not to iso­late itself from the rest of the world,” he said. “And I think Turkey agrees that we should do every­thing pos­si­ble to try to urge Iran to be a mem­ber of the fam­i­ly of nations, as opposed to try­ing to under­mine progress that is being made in this region.”

Not­ing that he laid a wreath today at the Anitk­abir Ataturk Mau­soleum, the sec­re­tary praised Turkey for “the mod­ern and vibrant democ­ra­cy” it has become, call­ing it “a tes­ta­ment to the vision and the strength of the Turk­ish peo­ple.”

Look­ing to the future, Panet­ta promised that the Unit­ed States will remain true to its part­ner­ship with Turkey. “The Turk­ish peo­ple should know that they have a com­mit­ted friend and a com­mit­ted ally in the Unit­ed States,” he con­clud­ed.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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