Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara Saturday, as she continued a fast-paced tour of Europe and the Middle East. She assured Turkey, which is worried about Kurdish separatism, that the United States is firmly committed to a unified Iraq.
The new secretary of state met the Turkish prime minister at the Ankara airport, as Ms. Rice arrived from Berlin, and Mr. Erdogan was departing on a trip to inspect tsunami damage in South Asia.
Turkey has long been concerned that moves toward autonomy by Kurds in Iraq could increase separatist sentiment by the Kurdish minority in eastern Turkey.
Those worries were in no way eased by the Iraqi elections a week ago, in which Kurds voted in large numbers, and assured themselves a major say in how Iraq is governed.
In an airborne news conference en route to Ankara, Ms. Rice said the United States is well aware of Turkey's concerns, and is committed to a unified Iraq, under a government that can represent all elements of Iraqi society.
"I'm here, really, in part to say to the Turks that we are firmly committed to a unified Iraq, to an Iraq in which all parties, all ethnic groups, all religious groups, all minorities are represented, and whose interests are represented in the new government," said Condoleezza Rice. "And we are making that message clear through all channels that we have in Iraq, to those who might govern, that we hope to see the development of positive relations between Iraq and Turkey."
The secretary said there have already been trilateral U.S.-Turkish-Iraqi meetings on issues of concern to Turkey, including activities of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, which is officially listed by the State Department as a terrorist organization.
She said the Bush administration is by all means devoted to continuing those trilateral contacts. She said she made the trip to Turkey to offer that message, and most especially, she said, to listen to the concerns of the Turks and factor those into U.S. policies.
Turkey did not provide troops to the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq, in large part because of Iraqi misgivings.
But Ms. Rice hailed the strength of the U.S. partnership with NATO ally Turkey, and stressed U.S. support for Turkish economic reforms and that country's bid to join the European Union.
The secretary is due to meet Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Cezer and Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul Sunday, before flying on to the Middle East for separate meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and newly-elected Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.