US-TURKEY MEETING AMID BETTER RELATIONS
By William C. Mann

Associated Press
Tuesday January 8, 2008 12:01 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Turkish president's visit to the White House is
seen as a major sign of improved relations between NATO allies after
five years of acrimony over the Iraq war and U.S. policy on Turkey's
fight against Kurdish rebels.

President Abdullah Gul's meeting with President Bush follows a visit
by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan two months ago that
resulted in a commitment by Bush to share intelligence on Kurdistan
Workers' Party, or PKK, rebels and not to object to Turkish airstrikes
against the Kurdish guerrillas' installations in northern Iraq.

The two sides have even established a coordination center in Ankara so
Turks, Iraqis and Americans can share information. The first Turkish
airstrike was Dec. 16 and used intelligence shared by Washington. Two
days later, a small Turkish ground force invaded Iraqi Kurdistan to
flush out Turkish Kurds sheltering there. Washington tacitly approved.

The PKK has been fighting for two decades to win a Kurdish homeland
in Eastern Turkey.

The meeting with the Turkish leader comes as Bush prepared to leave
later in the day on his first major trip to the Mideast to try to
build momentum for peace in that troubled region.

Speaking about Turkish-U.S. relations with Turkish reporters last
month, Gul said: "Things are going well at the moment. Intelligence
is being shared.

Now there is a cooperation befitting our alliance. Both of us are
satisfied.

This is how it should be. We could have come to this point earlier."

In the months leading to Erdogan's Nov. 5 White House appearance,
however, U.S.-Turkish relations were at their lowest point in many
years.

In 2003, during the buildup to the Iraq war, the Turkish parliament
rejected U.S. requests to send troops into Iraq through Turkish
territory. And a poll last summer showed just 9 percent of Turks saw
the U.S. favorably.

Despite pleas from the Bush administration and personal appeals from
Gul, then foreign minister, and other prominent Turks, the House
Foreign Affairs Committee passed a nonbinding resolution last year
that described as genocide the World War I-era deaths of Armenians
during the final years of the Ottoman Empire. Turkey reacted by
withdrawing its ambassador from Washington.

Despite the improved situation since the Erdogan-Bush meeting, the
situation remains touchy.

"Certainly there is far greater satisfaction in Turkey than there
was as late as three months ago," John Sitilides, chairman of the
Southeast Europe Project at the Woodrow Wilson International Center
for Scholars, said Monday. "It's all related to the PKK. Now the
United States is seen not as an entity that is holding the Turkish
military back but is working with Turkey."

Still, Sitilides said, Turkey could "respond recklessly" to perceived
U.S. mistreatment with grievous results. "There are 150,000 U.S. troops
on the ground in Iraq whose well-being would be jeopardized if Turkey
decided on an action such as closing off access to the flow of war
supplies."

Gul is having breakfast on Tuesday with Secretary of State Condoleezza
Rice and is meeting Bush for talks and lunch. His schedule released
in Ankara said he also will meet with Vice President Dick Cheney on
Tuesday and Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Wednesday before flying
to New York to meet at the United Nations with Secretary-General
Ban Ki-moon.

For his part, Bush leaves later Tuesday on his first major trip to
the Mideast, arriving in Israel on Wednesday. He also will stop in the
Palestinian-governed West Bank, which he toured in 1998, and make his
first visits to Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi
Arabia. He plans a brief stop to the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik,
Egypt, which he visited in 2003.

Bush's primary goals for the trip are to try to build momentum
for the troubled peace process and encourage broader Arab-Israeli
reconciliation.

Only Egypt and Jordan now have peace agreements with Israel. The
trip also is intended to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to the troubled
region and efforts against terrorism.

While in the United States, the Turkish president is to meet with
representatives of the Meskhetian Turks. A minority group ousted
from the Soviet Republic of Georgia, the Meskhetians were bounced
around to other Soviet republics until settling in Krasnodar Krai,
a territory of Southern Russia.

The Church World Service Immigration and Refugee Program undertook
what it calls one of the largest refugee resettlement programs in
2005-2006 to bring as many as 18,000 Meskhetians to about two dozen
cities in the United States.