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US Urged to Focus on Improving Ties with Turkey


A new report from the Council on Foreign Relations says the United States should pay closer attention to Turkey, a country crucial to U.S. strategic interests. The report lists a number of key issues that the authors say should be addressed.

Relations between the United States and Turkey hit a low point in 2003 when Ankara refused to host U.S. troops for the invasion of neighboring Iraq.

The new Council on Foreign Relations report is titled Generating Momentum for a New Era in U.S.-Turkey Relations. Its co-author, Steven Cook, says the thorniest issue between Washington and Ankara is the Kurdish-governed area in northern Iraq. He notes that Turkey would like more U.S. help against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, which is believed to have forces hiding out in the Kurdish areas of Iraq.

"Essentially, the governments of the United States and Turkey are at loggerheads on issue. There are a series of things that the Turks would like the United States to do. For example, take on the PKK directly through military action or provide the Turkish military with actionable intelligence, so that it can do so itself," he said.

The United States has consistently maintained that there should be no separate Kurdish state and has listed the PKK on its list of terror groups. Kurdish nationalist sentiment is strong in Turkey, which is home to an estimated 12 million Kurds.

Cook said Washington could play a role in helping to resolve tensions between Turks and Kurds by organizing a three-way dialogue that would include the United States, Turkey and the government of Iraq, with legitimate representatives of the Iraqi Kurdish community.

"...in order to get everybody's positions out on the table and discuss, over a course of time, a continuous discussion, over what types of solutions can be developed on a variety of questions, but most importantly, on the PKK. These have to do, ideas related to an extradition treaty between Iraq and Turkey, the possibility of amnesty for some PKK fighters and others," he said.

Though Washington has been pressing Europe on the issue for years, the report calls on the U.S. to take an even more active role in supporting Turkey's application to join the European Union. Co-author Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall says she believes the issue is urgent.

"If you look at Turkish public opinion data, there is growing discomfort with the commitment to join the EU, because the message coming from so many EU capitals is negative, regarding Turkey. Meanwhile, Turkey is undertaking major reforms to accommodate all of the EU requirements. Many of these reforms are very good for Turkey, but some of them are very hard for Turkey. So, here I think we really need to see progress in the next year, not stretched out over 10," he said.

She said in order to be effectively persuasive, the United States also needs to, in her words, rebuild its relationships with key European countries.

On U.S.-Turkey ties, the report emphasized the importance of strengthening both military to military relations and expanding cultural exchanges. These are among the issues that are likely to be on the agenda when Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul visits the United States next month.

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