Reporters couldn’t get a straight answer from State Department spokesman Ned Price during his press briefing Tuesday about a key issue facing the NATO alliance.
Following public indications by Finland and Sweden that the two countries would like to join NATO in the near future, Price was asked about reports that Turkey is the primary NATO member holding up their admittance. Price said Secretary of State Antony Blinken felt there was a “strong consensus” for bringing the two into the alliance after meeting with his colleagues in Berlin this past weekend, but multiple reporters pointed out that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan publicly said Turkey opposes NATO expansion.
Price initially deflected when asked for clarification on Turkey’s position, prompting multiple reporters to ask a more basic question: Does the Biden administration understand what Turkey’s position is?
“There seem to be, at best, conflicting if not absolutely contradictory positions coming from the President and then President Erdoğan,” one reporter said. “Do you understand what the Turkish position is?”
“It is not for us to speak for the Turkish Government, of course,” Price answered. He would return to this line later.
A second reporter raised the fact that Erdogan said Sweden and Finland should not even bother sending delegations to negotiate with Turkey, because he was a hard “no” on adding them to the alliance. Price repeated the same answer: “Again, it is not for me to speak for the Turkish Government or to characterize their position. What we can do is characterize what we heard inside the NATO ministerial, what we have heard in bilateral and multilateral – including in conversations as an Alliance – with our fellow NATO Allies.”
A third reporter asked Price about the contradiction between his claiming of a “consensus” and Erdoğan’s comments. “You keep referring to the confidence that emerged from the meeting over the weekend, and were referring to what President Erdoğan said yesterday, so is that confidence still there? And what explains your confidence as to President Erdoğan said the contrary publicly?” the reporter asked.
Again, Price said he was speaking to the U.S. position, not speaking for Turkey. Price finally moved to hear a question on another topic, at the same time Associated Press reporter Matt Lee opened fire on the refusal of the spokesman to give a coherent answer.
“That doesn’t clear up anything. We get you, telling us, that in Berlin the Turks were all on board,” Lee said. “And then the president of the country comes out yesterday and says he’s not on board.”
“It it not up to me to characterize what the Turkish government’s position is,” Price began to answer. (RELATED: State Department Spokesman Ned Price Left Literally Speechless At Taiwan Question)
“The question is do you understand what the Turkish position is?” Lee interjected. “Is it clear to the United States government what the Turkish position is?”
Price did not answer, instead moving to a question about Georgian press freedom.