U.S. eyes more support for Turkey's fight against PKK

11:11, July 17, 2010      

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As disputes over Gaza and the Iran nuclear issue complicated the U.S. relations with its old Middle East ally Turkey, Washington has showed intention to sustain the partnership by hinting at stronger support for Turkey's fight against Kurdish rebels.

Outgoing U.S. Ambassador to Turkey James Jeffrey told Turkish media this week the U.S. aid for Turkey's crackdown upon the members of the outlawed Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK) hidden in northern Iraq would go beyond the present real-time intelligence sharing.

"We'll empty out the airspace of Iraq to allow very frequent operations of Turkey on the request of the Turkish government," Turkish newspaper Hurriyet Daily News quoted Jeffrey as saying on Wednesday.

"We are looking at additional ways that we can provide assistance for Turkey, including weapons platforms," he told the paper in an interview.

The PKK took up arms in 1984 in order to create an ethnic homeland in southeastern Turkey. Some 40,000 people have been killed in conflicts involving the PKK for the past over two decades.

A large number of PKK militants hide out in the mountains in northern Iraq. The Turkish military has been conducting cross- border air raids against them.

Jeffrey's words came amid concerns that tensions emerged between the United States and Turkey after Turkey's veto on a UN Security Council decision on sanctions over Iran and a deadly Israeli raid on a Turkish aid ship to the enclosed Gaza Strip.

Turkey has opposed further sanctions over Iran, citing peaceful purposes of the Iranian nuclear project. It was also furious about the death of eight Turkish activists and one Turkish American on the aid ship to Gaza, demanding apology and compensation from Israel, another U.S. key ally in the region.

Jeffrey said U.S. President Barack Obama was concerned about the aid ship issue and Turkey's "no" vote on sanctions over Iran, but stressed U.S.-Turkish relations would not be shaken.

"I think he (Obama) is also very committed to continuing, and that's all through this, his relationship with Turkey. It's an important country. It shares many values with us," Jeffrey was quoted as saying.

During a 2009 state visit to Turkey, Obama described ties with Turkey as "a model partnership" and underlined Turkey's potential as a bridge to the Muslim world.

The U.S. military began to share intelligence about the PKK in northern Iraq with Turkey following a White House meeting between Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and then-U.S. President George W. Bush in November 2007.

Turkey has improved its relations with the neighboring countries, including the former foe Syria, while it has strained ties with the old ally Israel over the latter's offensive in Gaza in 2008 winter.

Jeffrey said despite the U.S. concerns over Turkey's changing attitudes on Iranian and Israeli issues, the United States does not want to harm its relations with Turkey.

"Turkey is a country of huge strategic importance. It's always been at the crossroads of East and West," he said. "For all these reasons we thought it's very important to cultivate a strong relationship with Turkey, although I think some of the issues we' ve seen, for example their attempt to deal with the Iran nuclear issue, were unfortunate."

At a press conference during his visit to Portugal on Thursday, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu rejected reports that the United States wanted Turkey to stay away from the nuclear negotiations with Iran.

"In the telephone call with Mrs. Clinton, she appreciated the Turkish role and said this process should continue in the Security Council," Davutoglu said.

Turkey and Brazil, the two non-permanent members of the UN Security Council, mediated an agreement with Iran to promote a nuclear fuel swap they reached with Tehran in May in the hope of avoiding a new round of sanctions over Iran.

A senior U.S. official was quoted by American media as saying U. S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had asked Davutoglu in a 45- minute telephone conversation Monday to leave the Iranian nuclear issue to UN Security Council powers and the International Atomic Energy Agency.



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