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N. Iraq: A New Page in Foreign Policy

HDN | 11/15/1998 12:00:00 AM |

Positive attitude Ankara not only wants the PUK to sever its relationship with the PKK but also wants a more positive attitude on the part of Talabani and his people towards Turkey Concerns eased Turkey's concerns over the Washington agreement signed between the two Iraqi Kurdish factions were eased by the declaration of a long-awaited trilateral statement by London, Ankara and Washington and the assurances given by the two Iraqi Kurdish leaders New era Ecevit commented that a new era of relations was

  • Positive attitude Ankara not only wants the PUK to sever its relationship with the PKK but also wants a more positive attitude on the part of Talabani and his people towards Turkey
  • Concerns eased Turkey's concerns over the Washington agreement signed between the two Iraqi Kurdish factions were eased by the declaration of a long-awaited trilateral statement by London, Ankara and Washington and the assurances given by the two Iraqi Kurdish leaders
  • New era Ecevit commented that a new era of relations was beginning in northern Iraq, adding that all the relevant parties were aware of Turkey's determination regarding the PKK and emphasizing the increased security cooperation between the Iraqi Kurds and Ankara
  • "The page has been turned," "A new era is beginning" and "We're starting with a clean slate..."

    These are all phrases we are used to hearing from our politicians. Former Prime Minister Tansu Ciller was particularly fond of turning pages in foreign policy. Last week, we heard about another new page following the meetings between Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) leader Jalal Talabani and Turkish officials. What was new? How did the Iraqi Kurds manage to convince Ankara?

    Let's have a look at the recent events in the region:

  • Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) leader Massoud Barzani and Talabani were invited to Washington and were unaware of the plan to be presented to them.
  • In the first half of September, the two Kurdish leaders were brought together in the U.S. capital.
  • Under the auspices of Washington and U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, the two rival factions signed an agreement for a reconciliation between the Iraqi Kurds.
  • Reaction against the deal emerged from Turkey: Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz defined it as a diplomatic gaffe, and the deputy prime minister harshly criticized it.
  • But the picture changed after the visit of the two Iraqi Kurdish leaders to Turkey. First, Ankara hosted a meeting of the two rivals, Talabani and Barzani.

    The Iraqi Kurdish leaders discussed Barzani's meetings with Turkish officials and Talabani's talks with authorities in Ankara. Barzani briefed Talabani about his meetings with Turkish government officials and the military and about Turkish expectations from him.

    Talabani, accompanied by Barham Saleh, the PUK Washington representative, and Mohammad Tofiq, a member of the PUK political bureau, recently met with Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit and then left Ankara on Thursday for Tehran and Damascus.

    Barzani reportedly told Talabani that Ankara wants assurances that Talabani will keep his word to remove the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) from northern Iraq as was stipulated in the Washington agreement. Talabani told Barzani he would obey the Washington accord and do whatever was necessary against the PKK. According to reliable sources, Barzani told Talabani that Ankara wants action, rather than words, against the PKK.

    Sources said that Turkey would closely monitor the Iraqi Kurdish areas controlled by Talabani where the PKK is operating freely through its offices and even printing a newspaper. Barzani explained to Talabani at length what Turkish officials and especially the Turkish military want to hear from him. Ankara not only wants the PUK to sever its relationship with the PKK but also wants a more positive attitude on the part of Talabani and his people towards Turkey.

    The Turkish Probe was told that it would be the last summit between the two leaders in Ankara. There will be no other meeting later in November as some circles have speculated, and the KDP will be represented by Nechirvan Barzani in the upcoming meetings in London. Barzani and Talabani also discussed speeding up the implementation of the Washington agreement. In addition, Barzani offered his ideas to Talabani on how to ease Turkish concerns over the Washington agreement. He told him that Turks were particularly sensitive with respect to the PKK as well as to the mention of a federal arrangement for northern Iraq.

    Turkey's concerns over the Washington agreement signed between the two Iraqi Kurdish factions were eased by the declaration of a long-awaited trilateral statement by London, Ankara and Washington and the assurances given by the two Iraqi Kurdish leaders.

    Joint statement by London, Ankara and Washington

    The trilateral statement was first released by Turkish Foreign Ministry deputy spokesman Sermet Atacanli at the weekly press briefing. Washington and London later issued a joint statement underlining the territorial integrity of Iraq, the legitimate security interests of Turkey and the continuation of the reconciliation between the Iraqi Kurdish parties. The emphasis on an "interim solution for the current temporary situation in northern Iraq" was also noteworthy.

    U.S. officials speaking in Ankara said that until a democratic government in Baghdad could be established, the Iraqi Kurds, through a local authority, would establish a temporary system to promote law. "If they try to establish anything in which they will have to cope with Saddam and the current administration, it will not be viable. It's not realistic," said a U.S. official when asked to elaborate on the phrase, "interim solution."

    The section of the statement concerning nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) also reflects a softening of Turkey's attitude towards such organizations in Europe. Citing security concerns, Turkey banned the entrance of NGOs into the region. Now a new system is being put forward for the working of NGOs. "Turkey had some concerns about certain NGOs," the U.S. official admitted.

    Talabani assures Ankara

    Meanwhile, PUK leader Talabani offered assurances on fighting against the PKK, and Ecevit, briefing reporters after his meeting with Talabani, said that Turkey should increase monitoring efforts in northern Iraq.

    During Monday's talks, Foreign Ministry Deputy Undersecretary Ugur Ziyal presented an agreement signed between Damascus and Ankara to Talabani and told him that the PUK would be monitored by Turkey in the same way it was monitoring Damascus to see whether or not they keep their promises.

    "A new era of relations is starting in northern Iraq," Ecevit commented, adding that all the relevant parties were aware of Turkey's determination regarding the PKK. Ecevit emphasized the increased security cooperation between the Iraqi Kurds and Ankara, especially following the escape of PKK elements to northern Iraq from Syrian-controlled areas.

    Iraq supports PKK

    Meanwhile, on separate occasions, U.S. officials and Ecevit both spoke about Baghdad's support for the PKK. "We can take the necessary measure," Ecevit said, without explaining the phrase "necessary measures" despite insistent questioning by reporters.

    The PUK, the KDP, British, American and Turkish officials are expected to meet in Turkey or in northern Iraq soon to clarify the continuation of the Washington accord. Only time will tell whether it will be viable or not.

    US/UK/Turkey Trilateral Statement

    November 10, 1998

    Turkey, the United States and the United Kingdom, as co-sponsors of the Ankara Process, welcome the recommitment to the principles of the Ankara Statements embodied in the Sept. 17 Joint Statement by the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in Washington. With this joint statement, efforts at reconciliation between the KDP and the PUK have reached an important new stage.

    Turkey, the United States and the United Kingdom reiterate the importance of preserving the unity and territorial integrity of Iraq. We are particularly pleased to note the prominence the KDP and the PUK accord this principle in their joint statement. Within this context, we note [that] the arrangements to implement the Ankara Statements and the Joint Statement have the objective of an interim solution for the current temporary situation in northern Iraq.

    Clearly, the co-sponsors as well as the parties believe that key decisions on Iraq's future should be made by all the Iraqi people together at an appropriate time and as part of a regular political process. The Ankara Statements and the Joint Statement are thus meant to implement a framework of regional administration until key decisions about the political system of Iraq can be made by the Iraqi people within a united Iraq. We welcome the Joint Statement as an important step in that direction.

    We also welcome the clear commitment by the KDP and PUK to deny sanctuary to the PKK, to eliminate all PKK bases from the region, and to safeguard the Turkish border. Turkey's legitimate security concerns and its right to defend itself against terrorism should be respected. We look forward to full implementation of these and other provisions in the Joint Statement and Ankara Statements designed to eliminate terrorism.

    We recognize the possible role of humanitarian, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in supporting the goals of the Ankara Statements. In the past, the activities of some NGOs in northern Iraq may not have conformed with their status. The government of Turkey has established principles to regulate the passage of NGO workers to the region.

    Finally, our governments wish to recognize the statesmanlike, cooperative achievement of Mr. Barzani and Mr. Talabani in making possible this initiative. We welcome their visit to Ankara and suggest that they continue their involvement in the Ankara Process and implementation of its goals.

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