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Turkish PM Warns Against Greater Autonomy for Iraqi Kurds


Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan says granting greater autonomy for Kurds living in northern Iraq would destabilize the region. The Turkish leader is on a week-long visit to the United States, where he will meet with President Bush to discuss foreign policy issues.

Turkey is concerned that Iraq's Kurdish population could exert control over the oil-rich northern region of Iraq, as well as fuel hopes for independence among Turkey's Kurdish population.

At the private Council on Foreign Relations in New York City, Prime Minister Erdogan said he opposes Kurdish autonomy in northern Iraq, emphasizing that ethnic federations are not healthy for a democratic political structure. "In democracies, these are not very healthy approaches and they do not serve for the formation of a healthy political structure, and it would put Iraq in an even more difficult position in the future," he said.

Prime Minister Erdogan also reaffirmed his call for a new envoy to broker a final peace plan to end the 30 year division of the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. He criticized ongoing negotiations to reunify Cyprus, which has been divided since 1974 in a Turkish-occupied North and a Greek Cypriot-controlled South.

Mr. Erdogan is anxious to see the process move forward, since reunification would bolster the country's bid to join the European Union. Cyprus is slated to join the EU by May 1, but if the island is still divided, membership would apply only to the Greek Cypriot south.

Mr. Erdogan, in his remarks to the private foreign policy group, said he sees Turkey's role as a peacemaker in the Central Asian region. "In a sense, it is not possible to define the world's geopolitics of the 21st century in terms of conventional politics. One has to also take into consideration such elements as political and social values, interaction between societies, identity and cultural harmony. Turkey does not confine itself in the strict sense of national interest alone, but rather pursues a pro-active foreign policy aimed at contributing to regional and global peace and security," he said.

Turkey has been under increasing pressure to resolve the division in Cyprus, where it still maintains some 40,000 troops, and is the only country to recognize the breakaway northern part of the island.