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Press Conference Given By the Foreign Secretary and the Turkish Foreign Minister At 1 Carlton Gardens, London, 7 November 2008


FOREIGN SECRETARY
….and welcome to Carlton Gardens, especially a welcome to our visitors from Turkey and most important my friend and colleague, Ali Babacan, the Turkish Foreign Minister. We have just had a couple of hours of very, very good discussions on a wide range of bilateral, multilateral and regional issues, and I will just give you a short resume of them.

I think the first thing I should say for a British audience is that I obviously briefed the Foreign Minister on the developments in British politics over the last 24 hours. I was delighted to be able to tell the Foreign Minister, details of the extraordinary victory of the governing party in the Glenrothes bi-election last night and the very, very strong and well deserved vote of confidence and support that the Prime Minister got from the voters of Glenrothes and it was nice to be able to do that.

We talked about the situation bilaterally. Our relations are excellent. We have burgeoning educational, cultural, economic and political ties between the UK and Turkey. We did discuss the TV programme that was screened last night and the second episode of which is screened tonight. The Foreign Minister explained to me the very strong commitment of the government in Turkey to raise standards of support for all children and the determination of the government to take forward that agenda including through the very important work that it is doing with UNICEF. In return I obviously explained to the Foreign Minister the very strong and equal commitment right across the UK to support the rights of children. I also explained that obviously this was an independent TV programme, not a government programme, and that Sarah Ferguson is obviously an independent person who made that programme.

On the regional question, we talked in some detail about the developing situation in Iraq. We talked about relations with Iran, we talked about the situation in the wider Middle East where Foreign Minister Babacan has made a very important contribution to facilitating the talks between Israel and Syria which are very important.

We also obviously talked about our shared interest in a resolution of the Cyprus problem and our high hopes for progress in the talks next year. I also reaffirmed as I said on Monday in Marseilles to the Foreign Minister our continued determination to be champions of the enlargement of the European Union to include Turkey who I think would make a huge contribution to the European Union and I think the European Union could be of great benefit to Turkey as well.

That is more or less the range of subjects that we talked about. The Foreign Minister will be coming with me to my constituency for the rest of the day up in South Shields and I am looking forward to that. He will also be able to attend the South Shields Lecture tonight which is being delivered by Patrick Stewart otherwise known as Captain Picard in Star Trek for those of you who are Star Trek fans. Those of you who follow these things may be interested to know that while demand for the South Shields Lecture last year delivered by Tony Blair was high, the demand for tickets for the South Shields Lecture when delivered by Patrick Stewart was at least 3 or 4 times higher. I should emphasise in both cases the fee is zero.

Foreign Minister, would you like to say a few words and then we will open up for questions.

TURKISH FOREIGN MINISTER
Thank you David. I just want to start by saying that we had very good talks today in the morning. We discussed several aspects of our bilateral relations which are excellent anyway. The intense, frank political dialogue that we are having at every level between our two Ministries and the fact that actually Her Majesty The Queen visited Turkey within this year was a development which actually crowned this already excellent relationship that we have between our two countries. And it was actually during Her Majesty’s trip that we had our talks on the sidelines as well.

We also discussed about many international and regional issues. The elections in the United States, also Middle Eastern issues, the EU accession process of Turkey, for which we are getting a very strong and vocal support from the United Kingdom, a process which is going on, things are on track, moving on, and also we discussed the international economic situation as well. There is going to be the G20 Summit next week, and I would like to commend Prime Minister Brown’s initiatives. What he has done in the UK has set a good example for many countries to overcome the deep crisis that the world is going through. Actually I had the honour and privilege of being his counterpart during my former capacity as being the Turkish Treasury Minister, so we worked together with Prime Minister Brown for three or four years. So I know him very well and I would like to commend on how the United Kingdom is handling this deep economic problem which is influencing every single nation around the world.

We of course discussed also the TV programme which was shown last night on a TV channel here in the UK. First of all I would like to say that our Minister who is in charge of children and human affairs in Turkey has started a wide-scale enquiry about the allegations. Any misconduct cannot and will not be tolerated and if there are those who have misconducted, who have the responsibility, then they are going to be charged. The scenes are thought to be shot at a care and rehabilitation centre for mentally disabled children. So it is not a regular orphanage. This is a centre for mentally disabled children and of course it is not easy for anyone to watch the scenes, especially mentally disabled young children’s behaviour and so forth. It is heartbreaking, it is sad and it is sad in Turkey, it is sad in the United Kingdom and especially for those mothers and fathers who have mentally disabled children. It is of course sad, and probably they would understand this better.

Turkey has actually signed and ratified many international agreements about human rights and this includes the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Such centres are being continuously inspected by intergovernmental, non-governmental and supranational organisations. There are quite a few international organisations which are authorised to conduct investigations in these centres without prior notice, so these centres are wide open for investigation without prior notice by authorised international organisations.

We are on the other hand continuously upgrading these institutions. We are trying hard to carry them to highest standards and we are doing best for the benefit of our children and we believe that our children deserve the best. They are our sons and daughters.

Any allegation concerning the practices and the situation in these centres receives the utmost attention from us. We immediately put into place the necessary steps to correct any defection. We are not ignoring the problems. Actually we are working hard for solutions. Currently there are 18 new centres under construction in Turkey. Brand new facilities to take better care of children who are mentally disabled.

Also we have started a new programme where if those children are taken care by their families, the government is contributing to the expenses of the families to take care of such children and there are already thousands of children actually returned to their families to be in a much different atmosphere. But there are orphans who do not have any fathers or mothers to live with.

But I would like also to stress one point. We actually regret the approach and the attitude displayed for the preparation of this documentary. The way in which the disguised Duchess of York was used to shoot scenes with a hidden camera. This was done without taking into consideration of the adverse effects of such unprepared visits on the intellectual and emotional development of these children. On the other hand we believe it is still not too late to correct these wrongs. We invite this TV station as well as other TV stations here in the UK and the Duchess herself to come and see the progress in those very facilities as well as other facilities. We have already done this for the Turkish media. It was last week. Wide open. They came in, they did their work and so forth. We are open to that also. So what I want to stress is that they are our sons and daughters and we care for them.

FOREIGN SECRETARY
Thank you very much. Who wants to ask some questions.

QUESTION
Sir, did you watch the programme last night on the Turkish orphanages? If so, what is your opinion on this? And how did you help the Duchess of York to enter these orphanages under cover?

FOREIGN SECRETARY
No, I didn’t watch the programme. I was at The Queen’s Diplomatic Reception last night and so I haven’t watched the programme. I think that the important thing that we continue to emphasise is that the Turkish government has stressed very, very clearly its determination to protect the rights of children. It has stressed very, very clearly its openness to TV companies and journalists coming to look at the situation. It has announced that it is holding an enquiry into the specific abuses that have been alleged, as it does with all abuses, and I think that that is the response of a responsible government. Let me draw out the wider point. In this country we have had experience of child abuse allegations and then proof of that abuse and we take it very, very seriously. In Turkey we have seen allegations now being investigated and it is the mark of a country that wants to share European values that it takes these allegations very seriously, that it investigates them and then it punishes any wrongdoing if that is found.

I don’t know about the details of the way in which the programme was made. That is something for the programme-makers and for the Turkish authorities. What is important is that we uphold the rights of all children, that we investigate abuse and that we promote very high standards.

QUESTION (ITV)
Good morning Mr Miliband. Your office has requested copies of the documentary and we sent two, so I do strongly recommend you watch it. And when you do watch it you will see children restrained, fed lying down and being forced to live in wooden boxes and a serious lack of care, inhumane care, that has shocked many British viewers. You said you and your Turkish have discussed the programme today. What you have not said is if you are concerned that on the one hand the Turkish government are saying that they are improving their human rights record, but just a few weeks ago we filmed secretly, because we had to, because we were not allowed access, inhumane conditions in a number of Turkish institutions.

FOREIGN SECRETARY
Well British people stand for high standards of children’s rights. The British Government stands for very high standards of treatment of all children and that is something that we seek to uphold, not just at home but internationally. Obviously we are very concerned about any allegations or television programmes that show the abuse of children of any sort. The descriptions of the programme as the Foreign Minister has said are extremely distressing and I am sure that the programme itself that graphically shows the conditions is distressing as well and is a cause for concern of any human being anywhere as the Foreign Minister has said. So the most important thing for us is that the allegations are properly investigated as the Turkish authorities are suggesting, that they are properly audited by the sort of independent, non-governmental organisations to which the Foreign Minister has referred, and that they are followed through by organisations like UNICEF which the government is working with. I also think it is important that the Foreign Minister has invited journalists from around Britain and elsewhere to come and see the way Turkey is changing and I saw for myself, I have seen for myself on two visits, that Turkey is a country undergoing big change. It is a country that wants to embrace the values of human rights and respect not only for children but for all vulnerable people. I applaud that and that is something I want to see taken forward. No country should ever say it is perfect. Every country should say it seeks to improve. That is what we do, that is what I have heard from the Turkish government and that is what I want to see followed through.

QUESTION
By the way, Foreign Minister, the disability of the child is not an excuse to tie him up, just to correct you there.

TURKISH FOREIGN MINISTER
I would like to add something. Turkey has signed and ratified many international agreements for human rights and for the rights of the child and we are open for any investigation by authorised international organisations without prior notice. By signing and ratifying those international agreements we have become very transparent in this case. But I am underlining the work of authorised international organisations. To do it properly. These children are sick. These children are mentally disabled. They have their rights. They have their rights of being a child, they have their rights of being disabled and doing such kind of a visit, although international organisations are authorised to do it anyway, in a secret way, with a hidden camera, disguised, changing the clothing and so forth, is not the proper way.

QUESTION FROM THE FLOOR
We weren’t permitted of these rights, and we had to come with a hidden camera.

TURKISH FOREIGN MINISTER
I don’t want to get into a discussion here. And the authorised organisations are doing it anyway. But if someone - a TV channel or anybody - is doing this for popularity then it is OK. But it could have some consequences. And it is not good for our children. Our children have the right to be protected about their sickness and it is not good to disclose the sickness of the people openly in a TV programme and it offends Turkish people. They are our children. They are Turkish children. They are our sons and daughters and we care about them.

QUESTION
I would like to ask both Ministers please what they think about the latest progress report announced by the European Union and the timetable announced for Croatia’s membership. And also an wonder, out of curiosity, London-based Turkish journalists, if they are going to English institutions, similar children’s institutions, and film secretly, what kind of legal challenges they could possibly face.

FOREIGN SECRETARY
Well I think that in respect of the European Union’s report on Turkish accession progress, I think it is a fair and balanced account of the last year which has been a tough year for the people of Turkey, for the government of Turkey, with the well-understood challenges that the government has faced, but also come through. I think it is very important that we in the European Union reiterate our support for reaching out to help support the development of Turkey, as a modern European country that is proud of its roots and proud of its history but also embraces a European future. I think that it is very important that we continue to open the chapters of the EU accession. Clear in the goal of membership but also clear that engaging with the European Union is a way of raising standards, not just economic, but social and political standards as well. That has responsibilities for the government that is seeking to come into the European Union, but also has its responsibilities for the European Union.

In response to the question in respect of children’s rights, I am not going to give you a legal opinion on the situation in respect of British law and secret filming. What I do say is that we have had our own bad history in this area. This country has had exposed over the last 10 or 20 years significant violations of the rights of children here, historically and sometimes even more recently and we have tried to learn from that. We have tougher and tighter procedures as a result and hopefully we have learned from it. But we have to have a degree of humility about our own progress in this area because the truth is, 20 or 30 years ago to talk of the rights of the child was not seen as something that was a common part of political and national life. Now it is, and that is a good thing but it is not just a good thing in this country, it is a good thing internationally. But do we have a way to go all of us, I am sure we do and we have all got to try and improve our own national situation.

QUESTION
Foreign Minister, forgive me if I ask our Foreign Secretary about the other domestic issue that you have been briefed on, the Glenrothes by-election. Foreign Secretary you will remember writing after another by-election “we need to be more humble about our shortcomings, more compelling about our achievements”. So what has happened since then? Did the Prime Minister take that advice, or is just that the world has changed and the context to yesterday’s bi-election was so different?

FOREIGN SECRETARY
I think that the Prime Minister has shown outstanding leadership in the face of one of the most challenging economic situations that has existed since the Second World War and I think that that leadership has been recognised in the Glenrothes by-election, deservedly so in my view. I think it is also the case that the central claim of the Scottish National Party which is that they would be better able to defend the people of Scotland from economic troubles by being independent has been exposed as a hollow sham. I see the by-election yesterday as a devastating indictment of the economic offer that is made by the Scottish National Party. It has been exposed as being hollowed by the people of Glenrothes. Equally the Prime Minister will be the first to say that there is a lot of work still to do, that the economic challenge remains very, very serious, that while we have taken very firm action in respect of the banking system, there remain big challenges ahead to protect people in the economic downturn and prepare for the upturn. And that is the sort of determination, imagination and drive that you will see from the Prime Minister, from the Chancellor, supported by the rest of us.

QUESTION
Mr Foreign Secretary. We do appreciate and we know your country supports Turkey’s full membership process in the European Union but I should say that the motivation of Turkey’s public opinion is disappearing. When you look at Romania and Bulgaria joining the European Union and the Former Yugoslav Republic also is about to join the European Union, like Croatia, etc, what could we do more in terms of not losing the motivation in Turkish public opinion because this motivation and these kind of feelings in public opinion is very important to continue this process. What could we do, and what could we do especially. There is very strong opposition in France and Germany and some other countries in the European Union. What would you like to say Mr Foreign Secretary?

FOREIGN SECRETARY
Well, given the events in the United States on Tuesday I hope you will understand when I say that the first thing that one should say is that when one is asked can the aspirations of the Turkish government for membership, can the aspirations of the Turkish people for membership of the European Union be met, the first thing you do is say yes we can, and the aspirations of the Turkish people to join the European Union are I think well founded and our determination to reach out to them is also well founded.

Secondly I think it is very important that the reform programme in Turkey proceeds and carries on. The government have published a national plan of reform and it is very important that that is taken forward to raise and develop economic, social and political norms to be in tune with those of the European Union. I think it is also important that Europe continues to develop its own structures to embrace countries like Turkey and others that want to join. So there are responsibilities on both sides and I think the message to the people of Turkey is that there are people in the European Union committed to make sure that we are not an inward-looking, closed club. Instead the European Union needs to be open to the world because if anything has been demonstrated in the last two or three months is that the world is interconnected and anyone who tries to cut themselves off is not going to succeed.

Thank you very much indeed. Thank you ladies and gentlemen.