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U.S. urged to press Kurds in Iraq

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The United States' Kurdish allies in northern Iraq have provided arms, shelter and equipment to a violent Kurdish separatist movement in Turkey, and the U.S. government should do more to disrupt the links, Turkey's ambassador to Washington said yesterday.

Ambassador Nabi Sensoy said Ankara has evidence that as many as 3,000 fighters from the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. government, recently had moved from positions in northern Iraq to the Turkish border to carry out operations inside Turkey.

The PKK units, Mr. Sensoy said, have received arms, safe passage and other logistical help from the two leading Iraqi Kurdish parties -- both of which are strongly allied with Washington.

"The United States is on record saying it is an enemy of terrorism wherever it is in the world," Mr. Sensoy told editors and reporters at The Washington Times yesterday. "We take the United States at its word."

Turkey long has feared that the emergence of an independent Kurdish state on its border after the breakup of Iraq could revive the bloody separatist strife that has killed an estimated 35,000 people since 1984.

Mr. Sensoy said his government understands that U.S. forces face grave security challenges in other parts of Iraq and that an armed intervention against the PKK was unlikely. He said the United States also had helped disrupt Kurdish funding links in Western Europe.

But he said Washington should use its influence on its Iraqi Kurdish allies to end their links to the PKK, and to disrupt the militants' command-and-control networks.

"You have great influence over these people," he said, adding that average Turks were increasingly frustrated by the apparent inability to contain the PKK threat from Iraq.

On Cyprus, Mr. Sensoy said he thought the Bush administration was close to revealing a series of measures to ease the isolation of Turkish Cypriots after the April 2004 vote on a United Nations-endorsed plan to reunify the long-divided Mediterranean island state.

The Turkish enclave, which is recognized only by Ankara and protected by Turkish troops, voted in support of the plan, while the majority Greek Cypriots overwhelmingly rejected it.

"The United States is very much aware of what happened," Mr. Sensoy said, adding that ending the U.S. ban on direct flights to the Turkish enclave "is a very good bet."

He said eventual membership in the European Union is a central pillar of Turkey's foreign policy, but no Turkish government could make concessions on Cyprus when the European Union membership talks barely have begun.

Turkey remains central to U.S. foreign policy on a variety of fronts, including Iran's nuclear program, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and relations with the Islamic world. Mr. Sensoy said Turkey, an overwhelmingly Muslim nation with a rigorously secular democratic government, was a key to avoiding a "clash of civilizations" in the post-September 11 world.

"The success of Turkey's secular state is a very important project for the Islamic world and for the world at large," he said. "We are a litmus test. We have to succeed."