Khaleej Times, United Arab Emirates
Jan 6 2007


Bush, Gul set for fence-mending talks
(AFP)

6 January 2008



WASHINGTON - With the United States bowing to Turkey's insistence on
punitive action against Kurdish rebels in Iraq, the two nations can
look forward to a more harmonious encounter at summit talks here this
week.


President George W. Bush is set to welcome his Turkish counterpart
Abdullah Gul to the White House on Tuesday morning, shortly before
Bush leaves for the Middle East on his first visit to Israel and the
Palestinian territories.

The leaders are expected to discuss Turkey's long-running bid to join
the European Union, an aspiration warmly backed by the United States
in the face of resistance from some EU powerbrokers such as France.

And with Bush seeking to revitalize Middle East peace talks, Turkey's
influence with Israel and Arab states will also figure in Gul's
Washington talks, as will Iran's nuclear ambitions, according to the
State Department.

It will be Gul's debut trip to Washington since the mildly Islamist
politician took over as Turkey's president in August.

Since then, Turkish opinion has been inflamed by deadly cross-border
attacks from northern Iraq by the separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party
(PKK), and by a push in the US Congress to accuse the old Ottoman
Empire of `genocide.'

But on both fronts, Turkey's government has grounds for satisfaction
as the two presidents bid to reinvigorate the oft-strained
partnership between the United States and its Muslim-majority NATO
ally.

Mark Parris, a former US ambassador to Turkey, said the breakthrough
came in November when Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan
enjoyed a `meeting of minds' with Bush in Washington at the bloody
height of the PKK raids.

`Bush used for the first time the expression `common enemy,' which
elevated the perceived threat posed by the PKK to US interests,'
Parris, an expert on Turkey at the Brookings Institution, told AFP.

Bush promised Erdogan reAl time US intelligence on PKK guerrilla
movements across the mountainous border between Turkey and Iraq, and
the United States acquiesced to Turkish air raids on rebel redoubts.

In return, according to Parris, the Turkish military promised to
limit civilian casualties, to eschew overnight stays on Iraqi soil,
and to avoid actions that could destabilize Iraq more broadly.

Late last month, Gul told the Anatolia news agency that the US
support `befits our alliance' and added: `This is how it should be.
We could have come to this point earlier.'

Underlining the threat from Turkey's perspective, five people were
killed Thursday when a powerful car bomb exploded near a military
base in Diyarbakir, the main city in the country's mainly Kurdish
southeast. Another two people were injured in a bombing in the
eastern city of Malatya.

Ahmet Davutoglu, Erdogan's chief foreign policy advisor, said the
joint work against the PKK since the prime minister's Washington
visit has done much to mend US-Turkish fences.

`The Turkish-American cooperation is bearing fruit, we're satisfied
with it,' he told the CNN-Turk network on Wednesday, stressing that
their alliance was no longer an `unconditional partnership.'

Turkish leaders are also happy with the waning of the campaign in the
US House of Representatives to label the World War I slaughter of
ethnic Armenians by Ottoman troops as `genocide.'

After the genocide bill was passed by the chamber's foreign affairs
committee in October, Turkey threatened to sever US access to an
airbase that is a key staging post for supplies bound for Iraq and
Afghanistan.

But the resolution's Democratic authors then agreed to shelve a vote
in the full House, bowing to intense pressure not just from Turkey
but also from the Bush administration.