VISIT BY TURKISH PRESIDENT DEMONSTRATES GREATLY IMPROVED RELATIONS WITH US
By William C. Mann, Associated Press Writer

Associated Press Worldstream
January 8, 2008 Tuesday 3:07 AM GMT
Washington

The Turkish president's visit with U.S. President George W. Bush on
Tuesday is seen as a major sign of sharply improved relations between
the 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 visit 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.

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. Neither side was blameless.

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.

The U.S. Congress did its share to poison the atmosphere. Despite
pleas from the Bush administration and personal appeals from Gul,
then foreign minister, and other prominent Turks, the Foreign Affairs
Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives 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 greatly 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.

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
2005-6 to bring as many as 18,000 Meskhetians to about two dozen
cities in the United States.