Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Ankara takes Turkish agenda to Washington

Monday, February 5, 2007
ANKARA - Turkish Daily News

Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül Iraq, before his departure for the United States yesterday, revealed that the agenda of his talks with top U.S. officials will feature the fight against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and an Armenian “genocide” resolution recently introduced in Congress. In addition to talks with Vice-President Dick Cheney on Monday, Gül will meet with his host, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and the president's National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley the next day. On Wednesday he will visit key lawmakers in Congress.

During his meeting with Rice on Tuesday, Gül is expected to ask the U.S. administration to block a resolution, introduced in January by Democratic and Republican lawmakers, to urge the U.S. government to recognize as genocide the killings of Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Empire late in the World War I era.

Speaking to reporters at Ankara's Esenboğa Airport before his departure yesterday, in reference to the Armenian resolution likely to pass in U.S. Congress, Gül said he would explain the Turkish thesis and the facts of the history during his talks in Washington. The minister complained of intense propaganda that was leading some politicians to vote for resolutions on historic events, on which they had no knowledge, and cited this as a weakness of the parliamentary system.

“It is our duty to provide information and tell the facts,” he said.

Gül also expressed appreciation over Parliament Speaker Bülent Arınç giving the go-ahead for a group of Turkish lawmakers to lobby in U.S. Congress in an effort to bloc possible adoption of the “genocide” resolution.

The first group of lawmakers will depart on Feb. 10 and deputies will be dispatched to the United States periodically for additional lobbying. As part of their activities, planned both in Washington and New York, lawmakers will present official documents and make it clear that adoption of the genocide resolution will cast a shadow on Turkey-U.S. relations. They are also expected to meet members of the Armenian diaspora.

Turkey denies claims that Armenians were subject to genocide and instead says Armenians were killed or displaced in civil unrest during the disarray surrounding the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. The Turkish government has recently proposed the establishment of a joint commission of Turkish and Armenian academics to study genocide allegations.

Asked what alternatives Turkey was working on to counter the alleged genocide claims, Gül replied, “We had said we'll seek every way including the court option. These are serious studies. … Officials, including former diplomats, are working on this and the steps we take will be announced when we are finished with them.”

Faced with growing international pressure to recognize genocide allegations, the Turkish government has intensified its quest for a new strategy and fresh thinking on the intractable issue that has long tied up Turkey's relations with Armenia and has been working on a possible move to seek international arbitration to settle debate over events in the final years of the Ottoman Empire.

Ankara to state concerns over PKK, Kirkuk:

At the airport, Gül said he had the impression that the U.S. administration would take more concrete steps in the fight against terrorism. Gül's trip comes at a time when Turkey is heading for presidential and legislative elections later this year, uncertainty prevails over Iraq's future and the Turkish public's patience is diminishing over the PKK problem.

Ankara has repeatedly threatened to send troops into northern Iraq to stamp out PKK bases if U.S. and Iraqi government forces fail to take action, though many observers dismiss the threats as rhetoric to impress voters.

“Gül will seek U.S. support in cracking down on PKK terrorists. It's a major security concern for us,” a Turkish diplomat told Reuters. “We can't just sit on the sidelines when our boys are being killed. We have been promised action but have seen few results.”

Chief of General Staff Gen. Yaşar Büyükanıt will follow in Gül's footsteps a week later for Iraq-focused talks with Cheney, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Hadley. Talks will also probably touch on the oil-rich northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk.

Iraqi Kurds want to annex the city as their capital and Iraq's new Constitution mandates a local referendum and census later this year. Worried by Iraqi Kurdish attempts to change the demographic composition of the disputed city, Ankara wants the referendum postponed. On Kirkuk, U.S. State Department officials have said the referendum process should go ahead as planned.

Recent tensions related to the decades-old Cyprus problem and Turkey's faltering ties with the European Union will be other major agenda items. Having wrapped up his talks in Washington, Gül will leave for New York on Thursday for talks with new U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.

“We have close ties with the incoming U.N. secretary-general. We'll discuss Cyprus and ask him to pursue the work previously initiated by Ibrahim Gambari, U.N. undersecretary-general for political affairs,” Gül said.

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.

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