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Turkey, Syria Pledge Cooperation Against Terror - 2001-09-10

Turkey's interior minister Monday signed an agreement with his Syrian counterpart pledging the two countries to cooperate in the fight against terrorism.

There were broad smiles and much applause as the two ministers signed two separate agreements on cooperation against terrorism and the extradition of illegal immigrants.

Speaking at a joint news conference, Turkish Interior Minister Rustu Kazim Yucelen said the signing of the agreements marked a crucial step toward improving ties and developing what he termed frank and open dialogue between Turkey and Syria.

His words were echoed by Syrian Interior Minister Mohammed Harba, who said that Turkey and Syria had much in common historically and culturally.

Mr. Harba underlined the need to overcome, in his words, the psychological barrier between the Turkish and Syrian peoples.

Turkey and Syria have long been at odds over a number of issues, notably Syrian support for rebels of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party, the PKK, and Syria's continuing claims over Turkey's southern province of Hatay.

Syria, in turn, accuses Turkey of diverting the waters of the Euphrates River, which it says are crucial to the survival of Syrian agriculture.

Relations between the two countries have dramatically improved since 1998, when, bowing to Turkish military threats, Syria expelled the PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan from Damascus. Ocalan was captured shortly afterward by Turkish special forces in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

Syria and Turkey now seem determined to set aside the past and to work on improving ties in all areas, including trade and tourism.

Turkish Interior Minister Yucelen confirmed that Turkey's foreign minister, Ismail Cem, will be visiting Damascus later this month. That visit will be followed by a state visit to Turkey by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. No date has yet been set for the Syrian leader's trip.