News / Middle East

    Biden: US Recognizes Kurdish Threat to Turkey

    U.S. Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a joint news conference with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (not pictured) in Istanbul, Turkey, Jan. 23, 2016.
    U.S. Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a joint news conference with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (not pictured) in Istanbul, Turkey, Jan. 23, 2016.
    Ken Bredemeier

    U.S. Vice President Joe Biden told Turkey on Saturday that the United States recognizes that the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) is as much a threat to Ankara as Islamic State militants are, even as Washington supports Kurdish forces fighting the jihadists in Iraq.

    Biden was in Istanbul for meetings with Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, ahead of efforts next week to begin international talks on Syria’s future.

    After meeting with the Turkish prime minister, Biden said Islamic State fighters are "not the only existential threat to the people of Turkey. The PKK is equally a threat and we are aware of that. It is a terror group, plain and simple, and what they continue to do is absolutely outrageous."

    U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, left, shakes hands with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, right, following a joint news conference after their meeting in Dolmabahce Palace in Istanbul, Jan. 23, 2016.
    U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, left, shakes hands with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, right, following a joint news conference after their meeting in Dolmabahce Palace in Istanbul, Jan. 23, 2016.

    No denunciation of People’s Protection Units

    Turkish observers noted that Biden did not also denounce the Syrian Kurdish militia known as the People’s Protection Units, which Ankara opposes as strongly as it does the PKK. The militia, known as YPG in Kurdish, is the armed branch of Syria’s powerful Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD).

    Militants from the Kurdistan Workers Party have battled against the Turkish government for the past 30 years, fighting for autonomy for southeastern Turkey’s Kurdish majority. The PKK also has actively fought against Islamic State militants in northern Iraq, aided by U.S. air support.

    Davutoglu defended Ankara's controversial troop deployment into Iraq in December, which has drawn repeated protests from Iraqi leaders in Baghdad. The prime minister said Turkey respects Iraq’s sovereignty, and that its troops are targeting Islamic State.

    Biden said he discussed with Davutoglu how Turkey can help Sunni Arab forces in Syria in their fight against Islamic State and to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Islamic State controls a wide swath of northern Iraq and Syria — a self-proclaimed “caliphate” with the city of Raqqa as its capital.

    The United States supports a political settlement to end nearly five years of fighting in Syria, but Biden said the United States is "prepared ... if that's not possible, to have a military solution to this operation and taking out" Islamic State.

    Freedom of expression

    Biden's meetings in Istanbul came a day after he rebuked Turkey’s leaders for cracking down on freedom of expression. He told civil society representatives that the Turkish government is not setting the right "example" with its imprisonment of journalists and investigation of academics who have criticized the government's military campaign against Turkey's Kurdish-dominated southeastern sector.

    U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, right, accompanied by the U.S. Ambassador to Turkey John R. Bass, talks during a meeting with Turkish civil society groups on first day of his visit to Turkey, in Istanbul, Jan. 22, 2016.
    U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, right, accompanied by the U.S. Ambassador to Turkey John R. Bass, talks during a meeting with Turkish civil society groups on first day of his visit to Turkey, in Istanbul, Jan. 22, 2016.

    In an unusually strong criticism of Washington's NATO ally, Biden said, "When the media are intimidated or imprisoned for critical reporting, when Internet freedom is curtailed and social media sites like YouTube or Twitter are shut down, and more than 1,000 academics are accused of treason simply by signing a petition, that's not the kind of example that needs to be set."

    Before the meeting, Biden told reporters, "The more Turkey succeeds, the stronger the message sent to the entire Middle East and parts of the world who are only beginning to grapple with the notion of freedom."

    He said Washington wants Turkey to set a strong example for the Middle East of what a "vibrant democracy" means. Biden criticized the November jailing of Cumhuriyet daily editor-in-chief Can Dundar and its Ankara bureau chief, Erdem Gul, on charges of revealing classified information.

    FILE - Can Dundar, right, the editor-in-chief of opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet, and Erdem Gul, left, the paper's Ankara representative, speak to the media outside a courthouse in Istanbul, Turkey, Nov. 26, 2015.
    FILE - Can Dundar, right, the editor-in-chief of opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet, and Erdem Gul, left, the paper's Ankara representative, speak to the media outside a courthouse in Istanbul, Turkey, Nov. 26, 2015.

    The U.S. vice president also lamented Turkey's widespread investigation of more than 1,200 academics who signed a petition attacking Turkey's military campaign against Kurdish strongholds.

    About two dozen academics were detained for questioning; they were released but remain under investigation. Turkey also has blocked feeds in the country from YouTube, Twitter and other social networks.

    Dorian Jones contributed to this report from Istanbul.

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    Comments page of 2
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    by: GOKCE KAVAK from: Turkey
    January 24, 2016 2:50 PM
    Yes, of course, the real citizens in the US, that's implementing peace process, not wars..

    by: Xxx
    January 23, 2016 11:55 PM
    Shocking news. Can anybody trust the US anymore?

    by: dara
    January 23, 2016 9:22 PM
    Shame on you... Shame on you for disrespecting millions and millions of Kurds who see the PKK as the true representatives of their century long struggle ..... Shame on for turning a blind eye at the corpses of the innocent civilians murdered by a brutal regime you call a friend..... Shame on you for being the representative of the most powerful country on the planet and not being able to speak the truth but rather read out a disgraceful script to please your murderer friend .... Shame on you for contradicting a statement made by hundreds of intellectuals who are calling the so called peaceful regime you are selling the world, to halt its repressive actions and stop killing innocent people in their homes.... Shame on you ......


    by: Anonymous
    January 23, 2016 6:37 PM
    Big mistake by the US.

    PKK is not a terrorist organization.

    PKK is in the list because for the era's political landscape Tansu Çiller was able to get PKK in the list, that's it.

    If the US drops the Kurds, there's always Russia and Iran that will help the Kurds.

    A Kurdistan country is in formation, so the US would better keep friends with the Kurds for future benefits, or the US will lose another foothold in the region.

    by: Anonymous
    January 23, 2016 6:22 PM
    Once again, the US is going to sacrifice valuable American lives for the profit of Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

    The most vital thing now is to close the Turkish border between Afrin and Jarabulus, that's the very portion that Turkey gets oil from ISIS and sends weapons to ISIS and AQ, and the Kurds are ready to close that border. But Turkey doesn't want the Kurds to do that, so Turkey is making American politicians to commit boots on the grounds... for the benefit of Turkey, which will keep the border open for Turkey.

    Why should the US do it?

    by: Anonymous
    January 23, 2016 6:21 PM
    So Biden was for sale, too, among others that were bought by the Saudis or the Turks.

    by: Bob from: USA
    January 23, 2016 5:51 PM
    Iran, Iraq and Turkey have all tried to exterminate their Kurdish population for decades.
    Remember too, that Turkey illegally invaded Cypress with NATO arms.
    In Response

    by: Bob from: USA
    January 24, 2016 1:26 PM
    Anonymous: The KDPI in 1979-82 in Iranian Kurdistan (10,000 people died) and again in the 1990s are recent examples of how much Iran cares about its Kurds and Kurdish independence (beginning in the late-1910s?).
    In Response

    by: Anonymous
    January 24, 2016 5:50 AM
    No, Iran was the first country to provide weapons to the Kurds when ISIS was advancing towards Kurdistan.

    Kurds have high social status in Iran, both in official establishments and social structure.

    Kurds are an Iranian people and are liked and honored in Iran.

    There's also a big province in Iran called Kurdistan, for recognition and honor of the Iranian ethnic Kurds.

    by: Les from: Australia
    January 23, 2016 5:51 PM
    No problem, this week we against this mob and for that mob.
    Yep, I know it is the reverse of last week.
    But hey,.... we'll probably change it back next week.
    That way everyone will be happy !
    And they wonder why, no trusts them or believes anything they say.
    The only constants in their conversations are, ( not necessarily in order) War, Killing, weapons sales and dictating to all and sundry.

    by: Anne G
    January 23, 2016 5:32 PM
    Most astonishing thing I've ever heard from Joe Biden. Clearly he's lost the plot! The Kurds don't need further oppression they need their own homeland State. Stop playing pic n mix with countries, Mr Biden

    by: Herdem Kurdman from: Europe
    January 23, 2016 4:32 PM
    And the Turkish republic is an equally dangerous threat for the Kurds as much as the IS terrorists and we are aware of that !
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