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Diplomacy in Action

Remarks at Bilkent University

Esther Brimmer
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Organization Affairs
Ankara, Turkey
March 26, 2012


Good morning, and thank you for hosting me today at Bilkent University. It’s a real pleasure to be here. In less than thirty years, Bilkent already is known around the world as Turkey’s premier university. I couldn’t think of a better place for a conversation with a group that, I’m quite sure, includes a number of women and men who will be part of the next generation of Turkish leaders. So I’m eager to engage with you on any questions you have about U.S. foreign policy, and maybe I have a few questions for you as well.

But first, I’d like to take just a few moments to point out how President Obama has approached U.S. foreign policy. I’d also like to point out a few characteristics of our 21st century world that support the United States’ emphasis on multilateral engagement, as well as the many opportunities for ongoing partnership between the United States and our close ally Turkey. And I’ll close by highlighting some of the ongoing challenges we face together.

Since taking office, President Obama has put engagement at the heart of U.S. foreign policy. In part, that engagement has involved further strengthening ties with longstanding allies like Turkey, which the President visited on his first international trip in office. It also has included efforts to improve relations with other centers of influence, or even countries with which we haven’t always had close relations. But what the President termed the “era of engagement” also has meant a renewed American emphasis on multilateral diplomacy across the United Nations system.

Now, U.S. leadership at the United Nations is nothing new. The United States was integral to the founding of the United Nations. For almost seven decades, solid majorities of Americans of all political parties have supported U.S. leadership across the UN system, and have supported working through the UN to take on global challenges. And why not? The United States, like Turkey, is a networked country. Like you, we are by our nature invested and involved in the world around us. Economically, politically, socially, culturally – even militarily, as NATO allies – we are embedded in countless networks. Even the UN system is essentially a system of networks, bringing together states and other actors to come up with shared solutions for global challenges.

So although American engagement at the United Nations has been longstanding, what is new is the scale and scope of U.S. multilateral engagement, and the degree to which the United States sees the need for multilateral solutions to so many of our most difficult and pressing problems. In large part, that need for shared solutions is a recognition of just how interconnected our world has become. Now, more than ever, our economy and security – and the economy and security of other countries, including Turkey – are intertwined with the rest of the globe. There isn’t much that doesn’t cross borders anymore. At times, those connections can be forces for incredible good. We’ve all seen the benefits that globalization can bring for our economies. Indeed, 2011 was a record setting year for U.S.-Turkish commercial relations, with $20 billion in total trade, an increase of 34% over last year. But we also recognize how the changing, more interconnected world we live in has fundamentally changed the nature of the threats we face.

No longer do our most pressing challenges stop at borders; no longer do we worry most about interstate wars among major powers as our greatest threat. Instead, so many of the contemporary threats and challenges are faced together by the United States, Turkey, and the rest of the international community. Nuclear proliferation; climate change; attacks on human rights; terrorism; transnational crime; famine and other humanitarian crises; refugee flows; environmental devastation; natural and manmade disasters; pandemic disease. The list of transnational threats and challenges is long, and diverse; perhaps the only characteristic they share is that increasingly, these threats are truly transnational. Too often, we have seen how instability or conflict in other countries finds its way across borders.

So as the challenges of our time pay little respect to national boundaries, they require solutions that move beyond unilateral action by individual states. Successful responses to these threats requires recognizing our mutual interests, accepting our shared responsibilities, and coordinating our common action. In so many cases, we know that the UN system provides the necessary tools and venues for precisely that kind of response.

So on Syria, we’ve engaged in lengthy and tough diplomacy to pursue an end to the violence. Russia and China have twice vetoed Security Council action supported by a majority of members, but the international community has made clear that those vetoes will not be an obstacle to our efforts to find a peaceful solution to the crisis. As Secretary Clinton said, “the people of Syria are looking to us in their hour of need. We cannot let them down.”

Working with Turkey and other partners, we are continuing international efforts to stop the Assad regime’s horrific campaign of violence. The UN Security Council’s Presidential Statement on March 21 reinforced the international community’s unified support for Joint Special Envoy Annan, his mission, and his proposal to the Syrian regime. We also took a leading role in marshalling overwhelming majorities in the UN General Assembly and Human Rights Council to condemn the regime’s attacks on civilians. And we have been strong supporters of the Commission of Inquiry that the Human Rights Council established to document violations and build a foundation for accountability. The international community is speaking with a single voice: cease attacks on civilians, stop the human rights violations, admit humanitarian assistance.

We will continue to explore all appropriate options as we try to stop the violence in Syria and advance the inevitable political transition. And the United States appreciates Turkey’s willingness to host the upcoming meeting of the Friends of Syria next week, which Secretary Clinton will attend.

The international community has approached other challenges – and opportunities – posed by the Arab Awakening, by working through multiple parts of the UN system. In Libya, Security Council-authorized action prevented Qadhafi from massacring civilians, and long-term UN engagement will help Libyans build a vibrant, peaceful, and free future. Throughout the Middle East and North Africa, the UN has helped protect human rights during political transitions, support free and fair elections, and promote the economic development that will provide a stable foundation for future generations.

The responsibility that Turkey has taken on in these challenging times has been commendable. Like the United States, Turkey has clearly and loudly condemned Assad’s brutal attacks on civilians. But as a neighbor of Syria, you also have shown true compassion and generosity for thousands of Syrian refugees, who have sought safety and shelter in Turkey from the ongoing strife. You know as well as we do that the longer Assad stays in power and oppresses his own people, the greater the risk that the violence in Syria threatens those beyond its borders.

Similarly, as countries in the region work to develop democratic institutions after decades of autocracy and dictatorship, the strength of Turkey’s democratic tradition and respect for rule of law have been beacons for your neighbors. In this vein, our two countries have worked closely together, along with other international partners, to support Iraq as it develops strong, responsible central government institutions and is reintegrated into the region. We also applaud Turkey’s leadership on efforts to bolster UN mediation, to promote the peaceful resolution of armed conflicts worldwide, and your hosting of last week’s high-level meeting on sustainable development.

And we both seek to end Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, even if we sometimes disagree on how best to achieve that goal. No one, least of all Turkey, would benefit from a nuclear-armed Iran. The United States and our partners have worked through the UN Security Council to impose several rounds of tough sanctions on Tehran for its refusal to come clean about the full scope of its nuclear activities. We have supported the International Atomic Energy Agency’s efforts to inspect Iran’s compliance with the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty, and worked with our P5+1 partners to press Iran to meet the international community’s demands.

And we must work together to address the common threat posed by terrorism. As Secretary Clinton recently stated, the United States and Turkey are partners united against terrorism, no matter whether the threat comes from al Qaeda or the PKK. Our countries have partnered as co-chairs of the new Global Counterterrorism Forum, or GCTF, a dynamic new multilateral organization that will strengthen the international counterterrorism architecture to address 21st century terrorism threats, while complementing existing counterterrorism bodies at the UN and other organizations. I know Secretary Clinton is looking forward to co-chairing the upcoming GCTF plenary with Foreign Minister Davutoglu this June in Turkey.

Turkey also has been a true partner of the United States and the Afghan people in pursuing peace and stability in Afghanistan. Both our countries have been strong supporters of the invaluable assistance the United Nations is providing to the political transition and to economic and social development in Afghanistan. As U.S. forces draw down in the coming years, the United States will continue to work with Turkey as well as the many parts of the UN system that are helping Afghans to secure a future that brings peace and stability to Afghanistan.

These are but a few examples that come on top of a generations-long history of partnership between the United States and Turkey. That partnership includes U.S. support for Turkey’s EU accession, and the substantial and ever-growing economic, social, educational, and cultural ties between our two democracies. It predates our shared commitment to one another’s security through the NATO alliance, and the long history of camaraderie among Turkish and American troops, who have served together in conflicts from the Korean War to ISAF in Afghanistan. And it will carry forward into the next generation: last year, more than 12,000 Turks studied in the United States, and in the 2009-1010 academic year, more than 1,500 Americans were students in Turkey.

So as generations of Turks and Americans before us have come together, along with other partners, to address shared challenges, so must the United States and Turkey find common ground to pursue our common goals, both today and in the years to come. And let me repeat what President Obama and Secretary Clinton both have said: that the United States welcomes Turkey’s growing influence and responsibility on the world stage. We are confident that Turkey’s increasing leadership will only strengthen this already historic partnership between our two nations.

In all these challenges, the United States and Turkey have both supported a strong United Nations as a valuable means of bringing together the international community. Both our countries have sought to build solutions based on cooperation and a common interest. We have reached beyond governments to promote collaboration and exchange between ordinary citizens, including through organizations like the Alliance of Civilizations. We haven’t always seen eye to eye, but no two countries ever do – and more importantly, the strength of our friendship means that our occasional differences have not prevented us from continuing to work together to address our shared goals.

I hope I have highlighted today not only the importance to the United States of our strong partnership with Turkey, but also how the Obama Administration has prioritized strong, smart multilateral engagement across the UN system as a means of addressing global challenges. As I’ve tried to make clear, our increasingly networked world means the United States, Turkey, and other countries need the United Nations and other international organizations to be strong, effective, and efficient, if we are to achieve effective shared solutions to our common challenges and threats.

So thank you again, for the chance to be with you today. I welcome your questions and look forward to our conversation.

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