ANKARA: Cross-border operation on the table for Gul’s DC talks

Today’s Zaman, Turkey
Feb 2 2007

Cross-border operation on the table for Gül’s Washington talks

Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül is expected to outline Turkey’s
concerns over the continuing presence of the outlawed Kurdistan
Workers’ Party (PKK) in Iraq and the status of the oil-rich city of
Kirkuk when he meets with senior US officials early next week on a
visit to Washington.

With Turkey getting increasingly vocal in its concerns, Gül and US
officials are expected to assess prospects of a Turkish-US military
intervention in northern Iraq on PKK bases. Gül held a closed-door
meeting yesterday with Chief of General Staff Gen. Yaþar Büyükanýt,
who is also due to visit the United States this month, to discuss
their upcoming visits to Washington. Gül will depart for the United
States this weekend. Sean McCormack, spokesman for the US State
Department, said that the issue of an operation against PKK bases
would be on the agenda during Gül’s talks with US officials.
`I’m sure they’ll talk about Iraq. I’m sure they’ll talk about this
cross-border issue that’s of concern to us as well as the Turkish
Government,’ McCormack told reporters at a daily press briefing. `And
most likely Turkish-European relations,’ he added.
Turkey has warned that it could take the matters into its own hands
if the United States and Iraqi authorities fail to take action
against security threats emanating from Iraq. A few thousand
militants of the PKK, considered a terrorist organization by Turkey
and the United States, are based in mountain camps in northern Iraq.
Ankara has repeatedly urged the United States and Iraq to crack down
on the group, but no concrete action has been taken yet. In a sign
that Turkey’s patience is growing thin, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip
Erdoðan recently said Ankara had expected a lot when the United
States appointed a special envoy for countering the PKK — Ret. Gen.
Joseph Ralston — but this initiative has failed to yield any fruit.
Yesterday, the Financial Times wrote that `one possible outcome
intended to guard against a unilateral Turkish intervention would be
a joint anti-PKK military operation with US and Iraqi forces,’
quoting an analyst.
Ralston visited Ankara earlier this week and said steps were being
discussed in the fight against the PKK, although he declined to
Gül’s visit also comes amid heightened Turkish worries over the fate
of Kirkuk, an ethnically-mixed northern Iraqi city which sits atop
vast oil reserves. Ankara has asserted that a referendum, slated for
2007, on the fate of the city should be postponed, but the United
States signaled it was not on the same page with Turkey. In recent
remarks, US officials have said they wanted constitutional
arrangements to go ahead as planned in Iraq, referring to the Kirkuk
referendum in late 2007.
Turkey says large numbers of Kurds flocked to Kirkuk in past years in
what it sees as a systematic campaign to change the demographic
composition of the city to favor Kurds. Thus, say Turkish officials,
a referendum next year would do nothing but to confirm Kurdish
control over Kirkuk. This, in turn, would be a boost for prospects
for an independent Kurdish state next to Turkey’s borders.

`Genocide’ worries
Gül is also expected to discuss a resolution introduced on Thursday
in the US House of Representatives. If passed, the resolution, which
urges the US administration to recognize an alleged genocide of
Armenians in Ottoman Anatolia in the beginning of the last century,
has the potential to inflict serious damage on Turkish-US ties. Gül
is expected to outline Turkish concerns and explain the damage the
resolution could cause in relations.
The foreign minister will have talks with US Vice President Dick
Cheney on Monday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and President
George W. Bush’s National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley on Tuesday.
He will also meet with Tom Lantos who heads the Foreign Affairs
Committee of the House of Representatives and committee members.

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