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Turkey expects Barzani to issue strong counter-terror messages

ANKARA – Hürriyet Daily News | 6/2/2010 12:00:00 AM |

Turkey said it was expecting firm counter-terrorism messages from the senior Kurdish official in his first visit to Ankara after six years.

Turkey said it was expecting firm counter-terrorism messages from the senior Kurdish official in his first visit to Ankara after six years.

Massoud Barzani, president of the Regional Kurdish Administration, was scheduled to arrive in Ankara late Wednesday although the Foreign Ministry did not make any written statement confirming his three-day trip to Turkey, which also includes Istanbul.

Barzani’s last visit to Turkey occurred in April 2004, after which relations between Ankara and Barzani worsened due to disagreements over the status of northern Iraq and the fight against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which shelters in the territory.

The rapprochement visit by the leader comes just days after the PKK allegedly killed six Turkish soldiers in a rocket attack on the İskenderun naval base, which has meant that the meeting will be largely low profile.

Despite arranged meetings with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, President Abdullah Gül preferred not to meet with Barzani.

The northern Iraqi leader, accompanied by local businesspeople, will hold economic- and trade-oriented meetings with Turkish businesspeople in Istanbul.

“We expect cooperation against terrorism. We can’t accept any support for terror from neighboring countries,” Davutoğlu told reporters at a press conference Wednesday. “Barzani’s visit should be interpreted with this understanding.”

Ankara will strongly raise the shortcomings in the cooperation against the PKK, he said. “[Barzani] already knows our attitude.”

The PKK is recognized as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

A senior diplomatic source said: “We are waiting for strong messages from Barzani against terror at a moment when terrorist activities are rising. It’s better that Barzani visits Turkey rather than not.”

Barzani is one of the most criticized regional leaders in Turkey as he has been seen as the protector of the PKK in northern Iraq. Turkey, the U.S. and Iraq have formed a trilateral mechanism to fight against the PKK, but no concrete results have been achieved so far. With its nearly 100,000-strong military force, Barzani could play a more influential role, according to many in Turkey.

The U.S. pushed both parties to reconcile and overcome existing problems, encouraging them to establish strong economic and trade ties. High-level Turkish officials have visited Arbil in northern Iraq to seek opportunities and Barzani has also said his side was eager to boost relations with Turkey.

Despite existing disagreements over the fight against the PKK, the status of Kirkuk and sharing oil revenues, Barzani’s visit to Ankara is seen as an important development for the regional balance, especially on the eve of withdrawal of American troops from Iraq.

“The possibility of instability in Iraq after the pullout will have an effect on neighboring countries. Terrorist organizations in Iraq may cause neighboring countries to intervene,” professor Kamer Kasım, from the International Strategic Research Organisation, or USAK, said in a phone interview with the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review on Wednesday.

Noting that the U.S. still needs stability in Iraq after the pullout from the country, Kasım said: “Turkey’s role for stability in this country is crucial. Iraq should be cleared of terrorist organizations, and economic relations should be enhanced. For better economic ties, first the region should be secured. Barzani’s visit may lead to a relieving of the current tensions and the opening of a way for better cooperation.”

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