US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised Turkey’s role as a factor of stability in international efforts to combat terrorism, during a visit to Ankara on Saturday (July 16th), but expressed concern about the level of human rights and freedom of expression.
“The US stands with our ally, Turkey, against terrorism and threats to internal and regional stability. Our commitments to Turkey and its security is rock solid and unwavering,” Clinton said at the start of a joint press conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.
She underlined Turkey’s rising economic power and opportunities to foster co-operation and exchange with the US.
“So far this year, trade between us is up more than 50%. That means more jobs and greater prosperity in both our countries. But we see even greater potential ahead and we are committed to furthering and expanding trade and investment,” she stated.
Clinton pointed to the upcoming constitutional reforms in Turkey as an opportunity to address concerns related to freedom of expression and religion, bolster minority rights and advance Ankara’s prospects of EU membership.
“I do not think it is necessary or in Turkey’s interests to be cracking down on journalists and bloggers and the internet,” the secretary of state told a meeting with young Turks earlier Saturday. “It seems to me inconsistent with all the other advances Turkey has made,” she added.
Davutoglu told reporters that the two also discussed the situation in the Middle East in view of Turkey’s active diplomatic efforts in the region, as well as the political stalemate in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the ongoing dialogue between Belgrade and Sarajevo.
While in Turkey, Clinton also met US consulate staff, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I and political leaders, including President Abdullah Gul, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and opposition representatives.
Answering journalists’ questions after the press conference, Clinton referred to the ongoing talks on Cyprus’ reunification.
“We don’t think the status quo on Cyprus benefits anyone. It’s gone on for far too long. We believe both sides would benefit from a settlement,” she said.
“We want to see a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation, and we would like to see it as soon as possible. We would like to see it by 2012,” she added, referring to the date Cyprus is due to take over the EU’s rotating presidency, a step that Turkey has objected to unless an acceptable solution is reached in the Cypriot talks.
The Cypriot issue was also on the table when Clinton continued her tour in Athens late Saturday.
“I believe that it is possible to make progress, but this, of course, mainly requires political will on behalf of Ankara,” Greek Foreign Minister Stavros Lambrinidis told a joint press conference with Clinton on Sunday.
The focus of the meeting, however, was Greece’s debt crisis and measures to overcome it.
“We stand by the people and government of Greece as you put your country back on a path to economic stability and prosperity,” Clinton said. “I have faith in the resilience of the Greek people. And I applaud the Greek government on its willingness to take these difficult steps,” she added.
“Many on both sides of the Atlantic have bet on the collapse of Greece, and they have been proven wrong. We will continue to prove them wrong, and to this, our collaboration will be very important,” Lambrinidis said.
While in Athens, Clinton also met Prime Minister George Papandreou, President Carolos Papoulias and Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos. The next stop in her 12-day diplomatic world tour is India, followed by Indonesia, Hong Kong and the southern parts of mainland China.