Turkey, US await a whack from WikiLeaks
ISTANBUL/ANKARA – Hürriyet Daily News | 11/26/2010 12:00:00 AM | ARAS COŞKUNTUNCEL & SEVIL KÜÇÜKKOŞUM
A new round of confidential documents about to be released by the WikiLeaks organization had officials and analysts around the world on edge Friday.
A new round of confidential documents about to be released by the whistle-blowing WikiLeaks organization had officials and analysts around the world on edge Friday as reports spread about the trove’s contents. The documents are said to include proof of a reciprocal double-cross by both the United States and Turkey in aiding terrorist organizations.
Reports speculate that the leaked diplomatic cables will show that Washington aided the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, and that Turkey helped al-Qaeda in Iraq. Anxiety mounted Friday as the United States contacted its allies through its embassies in an attempt to brace for the release of what could amount to millions of documents.
U.S. officials briefed counterparts in Ankara about some documents WikiLeaks will publish that relate to Turkey, Turkish Foreign Ministry officials told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review on Friday.
WikiLeaks has not revealed what will be contained in its forthcoming release, saying only that there would be “seven times” as many secret documents as the 400,000 it posted in the “Iraq War Logs,” released in late October.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry on Friday rejected allegations that Turkey has supported al-Qaeda, and the United States similarly denied that it has supported the PKK, which is listed as a terrorist organization by both Turkey and the United States.
“Turkey has never given support to any terrorist organization. Fighting against terror is our priority and we don’t make differentiations between terrorist organizations. Turkey has launched many operations against al-Qaeda,” a Turkish Foreign Ministry official told the Daily News.
Asked about the allegations that the U.S. helped the outlawed PKK, the same official said, “Turkey and the U.S. are carrying out an efficient cooperation in the fight against the PKK.”
“We will evaluate the issue when the documents are released and contact U.S. officials about the issue if needed,” another diplomatic source told the Daily News on Friday.
The U.S. State Department said Friday that U.S. embassies around the world had “begun the process of informing governments that a release of documents is possible in the near future.”
“These revelations... are going to create tensions in relationships between our diplomats and our friends around the world,” said State Department spokesman Philip Crowley.
Deborah Guido, spokeswoman for the U.S. embassy in Ankara, told the Daily News that the U.S. government’s policy “has never been nor will ever be in support of the PKK. Anything that implies otherwise is nonsense.”
Recalling that the United States considers the PKK a terrorist organization, Guido said: “Since 2007, our military cooperation with the Turkish government in fighting the PKK has shown results. The U.S. Treasury Department has also named top PKK figures as ‘drug kingpins’ in issuing further sanctions against the PKK.”
Guido’s comment referred to an agreement between Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and former U.S. President George W. Bush in November 2007, when Bush pledged the U.S. military would share intelligence with the Turkish Army in the fight against the PKK. Acting on U.S. electronic intelligence, the Turkish Air Force has repeatedly hit PKK targets in northern Iraq since that time.
“We are committed together with the Turkish government to fighting terrorism, whether from al-Qaeda or the PKK. My government remains firmly committed to supporting Turkey’s efforts to combat the PKK, which has for too long threatened Turkey and taken Turkish lives,” Guido said. “The United States is continuing all operational and informational support and, since the increase in PKK attacks, it has increased facilitation in various ways.”
In Iraq, the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad, James Jeffrey, told reporters he was “worried about additional documents coming out,” according to Agence France-Presse. “WikiLeaks is an absolutely awful impediment to my business, which is to be able to have discussions in confidence with people,” said Jeffrey, who served as ambassador to Turkey before taking on his post in Baghdad. “I do not understand the motivation for releasing these documents. They will not help; they will simply hurt our ability to do our work here.”
A new posting would mark WikiLeaks’ third mass release of classified documents after it published 77,000 secret U.S. files on the Afghan conflict in July.
[HH] ‘Unreliable’ claims
Former Turkish Foreign Minister İlter Türkmen said he thought WikiLeaks’ claims of Turkish support for al-Qaeda and U.S. assistance to the PKK were unreliable.
“The U.S. had close relations with Iraqi Kurds and helped a lot following the Iraq War. I don’t think that the U.S. deliberately supported the PKK. Maybe the U.S. support to Iraqi Kurds could be misunderstood,” he said.
“Even during the tension between Ankara and Washington in the aftermath of the Iraq War, I don’t think the Americans could do any operations against Turkey,” Türkmen added. The former foreign minister, however, left the door open by saying that the United States has many intelligence services and hinted that there could be some contacts with the PKK.
Türkmen noted Turkey’s close cooperation with U.S. and European intelligence services about al-Qaeda. “Moreover, Turkey made operations against al-Qaeda. Allegations of Turkey’s support for al-Qaeda are irrational,” he said.
Pınar Tank, a senior researcher at the Peace Research Institute Oslo, said media reports about the WikiLeaks release suggested that Iraqi citizens residing in Turkey aided groups in Iraq with links to al-Qaeda.
“A U.S. military report charges Turkey with failing to control its borders,” Tank wrote in an e-mail to the Daily News. “While this may be the case, this cannot be equated with an official policy of aiding al-Qaeda.”
Serhat Erkmen, the head of the international-relations department at Ahi Evran University and an expert with Middle Eastern Strategic Research Studies, or ORSAM, said more information is needed to assess the allegations.
“Regarding the Turkey-al-Qaeda claims, we need to see the documents to understand what kind of support they are talking about,” Erkmen told the Daily News in an email. “Also we need to see – if there are those kinds of documents – which groups are in those documents because when you say al-Qaeda in Iraq it is really a wide area and includes a lot of groups."
Professor Hasan Köni from Kültür University dismissed the allegations, saying that the United States, especially the Pentagon, sometimes uses WikiLeaks for its own interests.
“The U.S. can identify anyone as al-Qaeda,” Köni told the Daily News on Friday. “If Turkey has contacted any politicians whom Washington was not in favor of, then the U.S. could be calling that politician [someone] from al-Qaeda. We should be sober on the documents since some circles in the U.S. could be using them for their interests.”
[HH] ‘No surprise’
If the WikiLeaks documents include files that show the United States has been supporting the PKK, the revelation would come as no surprise to many. Without substantiation, many in Turkish media and academic circles have speculated for years about a U.S.-PKK link along with other conspiracy theories that find fertile ground in the Turkish public opinion.
Mehmet Yegin, an expert at the Center for American Studies at USAK, echoed Köni’s sentiment, saying that U.S. support for the PKK could have been a result of Turkey’s decision in 2003 not to allow the United States to enter Iraq through Turkish soil.
“The recent WikiLeaks documents were also talking about the U.S.-PKK ties and as we can understand from those documents, the U.S. was not fighting with the PKK like an enemy," Yegin said. “Especially the March 1 vote in 2003 was the turning point for Turkey-U.S. relations and the U.S. could have been trying to punish Turkey between 2003-2007 with that policy.”
Tank from the Peace Research Institute Oslo, however, claimed that evidence of official support would be damaging. “If it is the case that there has been official support, however covert, this is more problematic, both given the U.S.-Turkey relationship and the United States’ definition of the PKK as a terrorist organization,” Tank said. “The one possible interpretation for this may be that this might be an effort to strengthen the PKK against one of its regional rivals, Kurdish Hezbollah, which, according to Turkish police sources, cooperates with al-Qaeda. From the U.S. perspective, it is easier to negotiate with a secular organization such as the PKK than one whose ideology prohibits any compromise with the West.”
The Kommersant newspaper in Russia, meanwhile, reported Friday that the new files about to be dumped onto the Internet by WikiLeaks contain embarrassing diplomatic cables that could harm Moscow’s relations with Washington. The confidential cables contain general assessments of the political situation in Russia and “unflattering characteristics” of Russian leaders, the respected business daily reported, citing a top source at the whistle-blowing website.
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Daily News reporter Ümit Enginsoy contributed to this report from Ankara.