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Officials Tell Visiting Turkish PM US Will Not Support Separate Kurdish State - 2004-01-29

Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has received assurances, during his Washington visit, that the United States supports Iraq's territorial integrity and not a separate Kurdish state. Turkey also seeks U.S. support in its push to join the European Union. During the trip, Turkish and U.S. diplomats also discussed Turkey's rapprochement with Syria, after half a century of hostility.

On Wednesday President George W. Bush tried to ease Turkish concerns about the future of Iraq's Kurds. "I assured him that the United States' ambition is for a peaceful country, a democratic Iraq that is territorially intact," he said.

On Thursday Secretary of State Colin Powell talked of the search for an appropriate model that offers Iraqi Kurds some degree of autonomy but as part of a unified country with central authority in the capital.

Turkey's Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul says he was reassured by the U.S. position. "We have a current understanding on the territorial integrity of Iraq, political unity of Iraq and all the natural resources will belong to all the Iraqi people. These are the main issues, I think, the principles," he said.

Turkey, which has a large Kurdish population of its own, is worried about demands from some Iraqi Kurds for more autonomy and their dream of a separate state. Concern has also been raised over the Kurdish push for control of Kirkuk in the heart of Iraq's northern oil fields.

Prime Minister Erdogan told a Washington audience Thursday that safeguarding Iraq's territorial integrity is in Turkey's interest. "If there's a healthy democratic structure in Iraq, that is in Turkeys interest," he said. "If there's an unhealthy structure in Iraq, that will always be cause for concern for Turkey."

So far, Mr. Erdogan describes the unsettled situation in Iraq like murky water that needs to be cleared up.

Analyst Omer Taspinar of the Brookings Institution in Washington is not surprised by his cautious remarks.

"The real Turkish concern is about an ethnic Kurdish federation, which according to many Turks would be a springboard toward Kurdish independence," he said. "Americans are very clear on that. Americans give guarantees that they want to have territorial integrity in Iraq, they don't support Kurdish independence. However the concept of ethnic federation is perceived in Turkey that may lead to independence."

Analyst Taspinar says Mr. Erdogan's visit to Washington has helped repair relations that soured over Turkey's refusal to let U.S. troops use its territory during the Iraq War.

"Since Turkey decided to contribute 10,000 troops to Iraq, that was the beginning of the recovery of the relations," he said. "So there was already a positive monentum, which gained further pace when Turkey decided to be more lenient, more forthcoming on Cyprus."

Turkey's decision to support the U.N. plan to resolve the dispute between Greek and Turkish Cypriots over unification of the island is a key element of Ankara's bid to join the European Union.