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Turkish PM: Ankara Opposed to More Autonomy for Iraqi  Kurds - 2004-01-28

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said again Tuesday that his country opposes greater autonomy for Kurds in neighboring Iraq. Mr. Erdogan spoke in Washington ahead of his Wednesday meeting with President Bush.

Mr. Erdogan told a gathering at a Washington research center, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, that Iraq could be destroyed if Kurds gain significant autonomy. He said the territorial integrity of Iraq has to be sustained and that he opposes any Iraqi settlement based on regional or ethnic considerations.

Similarly, Mr. Erdogan emphasized the importance of maintaining central government control of Iraq's oil wealth and not ceding the northern Kirkuk fields to the Kurds.

Turkey opposes autonomy for the Kurds in Iraq, arguing that it would encourage similar moves by Turkey's Kurdish minority.

Despite differences with the Americans over Iraq, Mr. Erdogan stressed the strong ties between Turkey and the United States. He appealed for more American foreign investment and said he hoped businesses would use Turkey's strategic location as a springboard for operations in central Asia and the middle east.

The Turkish prime minister repeated his determination to win European Union approval for a start to EU membership negotiations by the end of this year. He also spoke of his desire to reach an agreement that would reunite the divided island of Cyprus, which will become an EU member in May.

Turkish-U.S. relations were soured ten months ago when the Turkish parliament refused to permit American troops to use Turkey as a base from which to attack Iraq. Relations have steadily improved since then and close ties between the Turkish and U.S. military have been restored.

Mr. Erdogan stressed that Turkey remains a key U.S. ally and is very supportive of the U.S.-led campaign against terrorism.