NATIONS TO WATCH: TURKEY AND FRANCE - APPEAR TO BE MOVING IN A DIFFERENT DIRECTION THAN THE UNITED STATES REGARDING ISIS / SYRIA
The following is a portion of the State Department Daily Briefing held on October 31, 2014. From the onset of the briefing, questions were raised regarding the stance of Turkey specifically; Turkey has been accused of being to "permeable" to "foreign-fighters" as well as being too demanding of their request for a "buffer zone." The United States also is not agreeing to Turkey's request to make direct attacks on the Assad regime, and non-ISIS related targets. This is causing some stressors on the relationship and coalition between the U.S. and Turkey, although on-the-record, the State Department is stating that relations are strong and no contentions exists.
France is the other country that appears to be falling out of line with the U.S. on a few issues, not the least of which is the potential delivery of two warships to Russia. Russia is expecting the delivery of the two ships as ordered, and from reports we have read, they are still being built, however, it is not clear whether or not France will go through with the delivery of them as planned. France also seems to be aligning itself more with Turkey's stance regarding Syria / Assad, at least behind-the-scenes. Time will tell how this plays out. in the meantime, here is the section of the briefing we found to indicate some wavering of alliances:
QUESTION: Thank you. I saw right before we came out the statement about executions in Anbar and wanted to talk a little bit about ISIL, both in Iraq and in Syria. One, what was your reaction to the new reports about the foreign fighter flow coming into Syria and Iraq, that the airstrikes have not seemed to stop these – this flow? And then also, I’m wondering if you saw the reports that some of the Peshmerga who went into Kobani over the last day or two have come out, and they’re saying that Turkey isn’t supporting them – if you have a reaction to that.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Let me take the first one. As you know, cracking down on foreign fighters is one of the most important components of our effort to degrade and defeat ISIL. It’s one of the five elements of the coalition and something that we are working with every member of the coalition on. Over the past year, the Department of State has led interagency delegations to Western Europe, the Balkans, North Africa, and the Gulf to press for greater cooperation on – both bilaterally and regionally – on information sharing, border security, law enforcement, capacity building, and countering violent extremism. This engagement has directly resulted in steps such as stronger counterterrorism laws and arrests through the Balkans region, increased security cooperation in North Africa, terrorist financing reforms in the Gulf, and closer cooperations with Western European counterparts.
But we know that this is a long-term effort. Obviously, there are new laws and new steps that have put in place, but it’s going to continue to take some time. It’s positive that a number of countries in the region have taken steps to put new laws on the books, to take additional steps at their borders, and we’re going to continue to work with them, because we feel this is such a strong and important priority.
QUESTION: Do you have any explanation for why it’s starting to ramp up again now? There is some linkage to the airstrikes, the point being that the airstrikes hadn’t stopped this. I’m wondering if the airstrikes may have actually caused – been kind of a rallying cry for more to go, if there’s any analysis on that.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think that’s our analysis. And I don’t think, as far as I read the story, that’s what the story said, but that’s not our analysis. Obviously, what I was getting at here is that there has been additional steps and additional actions by countries in the region to do more to crack down on foreign fighters. And we know that there have been – there has been a history where that has not been the case. That’s a positive step. Does that mean it’s resolved? Obviously, it’s not resolved. But we don’t have a new assessment of the numbers. I expect that’s something we may have soon.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on Lara’s question on the foreign fighters, you know the majority of these fighters come through Turkey. Why do you think the Turks are not really cracking down on foreign fighters? They have always – I mean, this is not something that has happened overnight. This is something chronic. It’s been going on for three and a half years.
MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, I’m not sure there’s evidence – or factual evidence to back that specifically up. I will say that this is one of the topics of discussion that the Secretary has had with his Turkish counterparts, that General Allen and Ambassador McGurk has discussed with them. Turkey has taken additional steps to crack down on foreign fighters. They have made a number of arrests over the course of the last several months. Is there more that needs to be done? Absolutely there’s more that needs to be done. And that’s part of the discussion that we’ll continue to have.
QUESTION: Do you think that Turkey has been looking the other way while these foreign fighters are going in?
MS. PSAKI: I think the fact that they have taken additional steps recently is evidence that they’re beginning to do more.
QUESTION: Like what? What are these steps?
MS. PSAKI: They’ve put laws on the books. They’ve made some arrests. They’ve done more on their borders.
QUESTION: But the border remains quite porous, in fact. And in fact, a lot of people go through – slip through that border.
MS. PSAKI: Well, there – I just said there are additional steps they’ve taken. I pointed you to those. And obviously there’s more that needs to be done.
QUESTION: Do you believe that Turkey has its own agenda in this scheme, in this big – in the scheme of things, I should say?
MS. PSAKI: We continue to believe that Turkey is not just a NATO ally, but they’re an important partner in this coalition. They’ve taken a range of steps. We’ll continue to discuss with them what more they can do.
QUESTION: Can you speak to my --
MS. PSAKI: Oh, sorry. What was your second question again?
QUESTION: -- second question about Kobani? It was about the Peshmerga fighters who went into Kobani and who have come out. They’re saying that Turkey isn’t supporting them.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I know that there have been ongoing discussions on the ground between – that involve Turkey, of course, about moving the Peshmerga through. I remind you that Turkey is the one – is the country that said that they would be comfortable with having them come through, and they’ve actively talked about facilitating that. As – I think our last assessment of this – sorry, let me just pull this up. One moment.
QUESTION: Do you have any understanding of why – what’s your understanding of why the Peshmerga have come back out?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have an independent analysis for you. I think we’ve seen that there has been some progress over the past couple of days in terms of who’s traveling in and out. I would point you to them for more specifics on that.
Do we have any more on this topic?
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: The French president has said today that he supports the conditions that the Turkish President Erdogan puts to join the coalition. How do you view this statement?
MS. PSAKI: I – can you give a little more context for what he means specifically by that?
QUESTION: We know that the Turkish president asked for the creation of a buffer zone and --
MS. PSAKI: And did the French president say specifically that he wants a buffer zone?
QUESTION: He said that he supports the conditions --
MS. PSAKI: And he said that in the past, too. I’m not sure that’s new.
QUESTION: No, he said it today, with the --
MS. PSAKI: Sure. I know, but I’m just getting that – the fact that France has said that they would support that in the past.
QUESTION: But he said that in the --
MS. PSAKI: Our position hasn’t changed on that. Turkey and France are important partners in the coalition. We continue to discuss with them, as we do with all of our partners, what ideas they may have about how to address the threat of ISIL. That’s an ongoing discussion.
QUESTION: But you disagree with the both of them?
MS. PSAKI: I think you’re familiar with our position.
QUESTION: But the conditions also that Turkey put down calls also for the removal of Assad and actually targeting Syrian forces and air assets, or air defense assets, and so on. So it’s a whole – it’s a package deal. It’s not just one thing.
MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, I think I’d point to the fact that Turkey has already made a range of contributions in all of the lines of effort. The United States and Turkey have a shared interest in defeating ISIL, seeing a political transition in Syria, and bringing stability to Iraq. Turkey also plays an important role in supporting international peace in many parts of the world. We’re working with them on all those objectives. Obviously, we don’t agree on every component, but they remain an important partner and we have the same – many of the same objectives we want to achieve.
Go ahead in the back.
QUESTION: Yes, please. Regarding the foreign fighters in ISIL, from your answer it’s not clear enough that – are you – are you agreeing or not agreeing with what was mentioned today in The Washington Post that their number is increasing or not? I mean, this is like a reality or just news story?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t have an assessment from the United States Government on numbers. We’ve given numbers in the past that obviously comes out of other agencies. What I was pointing to is the fact that there are a range of steps that we have worked on diplomatically with a number of these countries on cracking down on foreign fighters, whether it’s putting new laws on the books, whether it’s doing more to crack down on borders. That’s one of the primary topics of discussion as it relates to the coalition.
QUESTION: The reason that I’m asking because at the beginning of the year it was mentioned the number of around five or six thousand, and then by July it reached more than 15,000 people from 80 countries. And when you say additional steps were taken by countries who are really concerned about or they have – they are concerned about the foreign fighters, do you have any assessment of these additional steps block some people from entering there, or it’s just like additional steps on the paper?
MS. PSAKI: Well, one, I’d say first on your first part, we have talked before in the past publicly about our assessment that ISIL can muster between 20,000 and 31,500 fighters across Iraq and Syria. That’s based on a review of all intelligence reports from May to August. And we saw an increase over the previous assessment, which is consistent with what we’ve been saying, which is that they grew in strength and numbers over the course of the early period of this year. We’ve seen specific impacts and countries – we’re working on an Iraq first strategy, which is something we’ve consistently talked about. We’ve seen the Iraqi Security Forces strengthen in some areas. We’ve seen efforts to try to take back some parts of territories. But this is going to be a long process, so I just don’t have a new assessment for you.
QUESTION: The other thing which is like always when this story or this issue is raised is based on the – one of the front line or the lines that you are fighting, which is propaganda war or what we can say deviating people from being misled by the ISIL message. Do you still believe there is a link between these two thing, I mean that the war of the – let’s say the war of ideas has to be done in order to stop these people from going there?
MS. PSAKI: Absolutely. The question of what is attracting individuals to join ISIL, to travel across borders is one that is key to us addressing the threat. And that’s why we’ve spent time and energy and the – of high-level State Department officials, including Under Secretary Stengel, to try to coordinate efforts to combat that.
QUESTION: I’m not trying to make the assessment of what you are doing of war of ideas, but generally people are linking between the increasing of the number and the Administration or generally the coalition failure in doing this war, I mean, properly or efficiently. Do you agree with that assessment?
MS. PSAKI: I would not. I think that there is a recognition that more needs to be done to take on ISIL messaging and that they have been effective in using online tools to recruit and to provide often misleading information out there. This is something – it’s not that the United States is the sole – will not be the sole owner of this. We will work with many countries in the region who have more impactful voices in the region to do that.