U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, arriving in Istanbul after a trip to Ukraine, praised the courage of the Turkish people who “defended their democracy" by standing up against coup plotters a year ago.
Tillerson, speaking on July 9 at the opening of an oil conference in Istanbul, did not mention the crackdown undertaken by the government of Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan that followed the failed coup of July 15, 2016.
"We're all here in Istanbul at a momentous time. Nearly a year ago, the Turkish people -- brave men and women -- stood up against coup plotters and defended their democracy," the secretary of state said.
"I take this moment to recognize their courage and honor the victims of the events of July 15, 2016," said Tillerson, who received an award recognizing his decades of work in the oil industry, most recently as chief of Exxon Mobil Corp.
The coup, attempted by a group of rogue soldiers in tanks, helicopters, planes, failed when thousands of Turks took to the streets in protest after a call from Erdogan to resist the plotters.
Since then, more than 100,000 people have been fired from their jobs in the civil service, police, military, and private sector. Some 40,000 people have been jailed.
Some Western governments have criticized the government crackdown, with rights groups saying it was used as pretext to eliminate dissent.
As Tillerson spoke, hundreds of thousands of people attended an opposition rally on the streets of Istanbul.
The chief U.S. diplomat met his counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu, upon arrival in Turkey and was scheduled to meet with Erdogan later in the day. Neither Tillerson nor Erdogan spoke to reporters before the meeting.
Tillerson is scheduled to meet with President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan on July 10 in Istanbul, then travel to Kuwait to meet with leaders in the Gulf nation.
Earlier on July 9, Tillerson delivered a blunt message to Russia during a trip to Kyiv, saying the Kremlin must take the first step to ease tensions in Ukraine and that sanctions against Moscow will remain until it does so.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called Tillerson’s visit to Kyiv a "powerful" signal of U.S. support for his country since it came right after this week’s Group of 20 summit in Hamburg.
At a joint press conference in the Ukrainian capital following their talks, the two men announced that the newly named U.S. special envoy for the war in eastern Ukraine, Kurt Volker, will stay on in Kyiv for several days to push for implementation of the Minsk agreements on ending the conflict.
Tillerson said the United States was disappointed with the lack of progress in implementing the 2-year-old Minsk agreements and placed the lion's share of the blame on Russia.
"It is necessary for Russia to take the first step to de-escalate the situation in the east part of Ukraine," Tillerson said.
He said that when U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin met on July 7 on the sidelines of the summit in Germany, they discussed "what is to be done about the Russian behavior of nonadherence to the Minsk agreements and nonimplementation of clear and straightforward steps as to the deoccupation of Ukraine."
The war in Ukraine, Tillerson said, was "planned and launched from Moscow."
"We do call on Russia to honor its commitments that were made under the Minsk accords and to exercise influence over the separatists whom they do hold complete control over. And we call on [Russia] again to immediately call on their proxies to cease the violence that is ongoing in east Ukraine."
He also reaffirmed that Washington would not lift sanctions against Russia until Ukraine's territorial integrity is restored. He emphasized that the restoration of Ukrainian territorial integrity and sovereignty was "the primary U.S. goal."
In a post on Twitter at nearly the same time, Trump said that "sanctions were not discussed" at his meeting with Putin and that "nothing will be done until the Ukrainian & Syrian problems are solved."
Tillerson also urged Kyiv to "continue economic and anticorruption reforms."
The war in eastern Ukraine between Kyiv and separatists receiving political, economic, and military support from Russia has taken more than 10,000 lives since it began in early 2014.
With reporting by Reuters and AFP
Tillerson Praises Turkish People For Standing Up To 2016 Coup Attempt