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Turkey's Erdogan Plans Fence-Mending in Bush Meeting

Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is scheduled to leave Monday for the United States for talks with President Bush. The meeting that is set to take place Wednesday in Washington is seen by some officials as a fence-mending mission.

The meeting between the Turkish leader and President Bush will last an hour and focus on developments in Iraq, Cyprus and Turkey's efforts to join the European Union.

Turkish officials say the talks are being held at Mr. Erdogan's request and will serve as an opportunity for the Turkish leader to restate his government's commitment to ties with the United States.

Relations between the two NATO allies have remained rocky ever since the Turkish parliament dominated by Mr. Erdogan's Islam-rooted Justice and Development Party, voted against a motion two years ago that would have enabled thousands of U.S. troops to use Turkey to open a second front against the toppled Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein.

In a recent interview with VOA, Mr. Erdogan complained that the parliamentary vote continued to overshadow Turkish-American relations. Mr. Erdogan says that Turkey does not get enough recognition for all the help it is extending to America in Iraq.

Mr. Erdogan points out that Turkey offered to send troops to help U.S.-led coalition forces to police central Iraq a year-and-a-half ago but that its offer was turned down.

Mr. Erdogan also points out that Turkey is the chief supplier of non-lethal logistical goods including food, water and fuel for U.S. forces stationed in Iraq. Last month Turkey gave the U.S. permission for expanded use of a key airbase in southern Turkey. The Incirlik airbase in Adana province which was used to patrol the no-fly zone over Kurdish controlled northern Iraq after the 1991 Gulf war will now become a major cargo hub for U.S. air force planes carrying non-combat materiel to Afghanistan and Iraq.

U.S. officials say they appreciate Turkey's support but express concern over Turkey's recent overtures to Syria. Washington alleges that Syria allows Iraqi resistance fighters targeting U.S. troops to use its territory to carry weapons and fresh recruits into Iraq. President Bush is expected to raise the issue with Mr. Erdogan.

Mr. Erdogan is expected, in turn, to ask President Bush to take action against Kurdish separatist rebels based in northern Iraq. The group called the PKK has resumed attacks against Turkish forces after it called off a five-year-long cease-fire last year. Violence in Turkey's predominantly Kurdish southeast region bordering Iraq has worsened in recent months.

The U.S. says with its forces combating Iraqi resistance fighters, it cannot afford to open a separate front against the PKK rebels.