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British Foreign Secretary Holds Talks in Ankara - 2001-10-18

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw held talks Thursday in Ankara with Turkish leaders, including Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit, to discuss the recent developments in Afghanistan. Mr. Straw eased Turkish concerns that U.S. led military operations against terrorist targets in Afghanistan could be extended to Iraq.

The British foreign secretary says his government has not seen any evidence, so far, linking the Iraqi government to the Al Qaida terrorist network, led by Osama bin Laden.

After meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem, Mr. Straw told a news conference that the only military operations, "for the moment," as he put it, were confined to Afghanistan.

Turkey has long feared that the removal of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein by force could lead to the dismemberment of Iraq and the establishment of an independent Kurdish state in Northern Iraq. The north of Iraq has remained under Kurdish control since the end of the Persian Gulf War in 1991, and is monitored by U.S. and British warplanes based in southern Turkey.

Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit says he informed Mr. Straw about Turkey's concerns regarding Iraq. Turkey's chief worry is that the creation of an independent Kurdish state on its borders would stoke nationalist sentiment among its 12 million Kurds.

Mr. Straw said he also listened to Turkey's views on the composition of any future government in Afghanistan. Turkey says it is opposed to the participation of the ruling Taleban in any such government because of its rigid interpretation of Islam. Turkey, a predominantly Muslim country, is officially secular.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem also reiterated Turkey's willingness to take part in an international peacekeeping force, after military operations in Afghanistan come to an end.

But Mr. Cem made clear that Turkish troops would likely be deployed in areas friendly to Turkey, mainly in Northern Afghanistan where there are Turkic speaking Uzbek and Turkmen minorities.

British officials close to the talks say they value Turkey's insight on the region. Turkey is the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's only largely Muslim member. It has close historical links with Afghanistan.

Robert Cooper, Britain's coordinator on Afghanistan, is expected to travel to Ankara soon to follow up on Mr. Straw's discussions.