- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 9, 2008

President Bush gave Turkey’s bid to join the European Union a glowing endorsement yesterday and called the Islamic nation a “constructive bridge” between the West and the Muslim world, offering a much-needed boost to U.S.-Turkish relations.

“I think Turkey sets a fantastic example for nations around the world to see where it’s possible to have a democracy coexist with a great religion like Islam, and that’s important,” he said.

Mr. Bush spoke to reporters after a meeting with Turkish President Abdullah Gul. The two appeared together on the South Lawn, where Mr. Bush said he supports Turkey’s efforts to fight the rebels of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, as it is known by its local acronym, in northern Iraq.

Mr. Bush called the PKK an enemy to Turkey, Iraq and “to people who want to live in peace.”

Mr. Gul’s visit to the White House is seen as a major sign of improved relations between the two NATO allies after five years of acrimony over the Iraq war and U.S. policy on Turkey’s fight against Kurdish rebels.

It follows a visit by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan two months ago that resulted in a commitment by Mr. Bush to share intelligence on the PKK and not to object to Turkish airstrikes against the Kurdish guerrillas’ installations in northern Iraq.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said a key item on Mr. Bush’s agenda is encouraging Turkish leaders to pursue a “long-term political solution” to the PKK problem, cooperating with Iraqi leaders who also are concerned about the group’s activities. She said the U.S. doesn’t have any particular solution or process in mind, but wants to play a constructive role in ending a long-standing dispute.

The PKK has fought for two decades to win a Kurdish homeland in eastern Turkey.

The meeting with the Turkish leader took place as Mr. Bush prepared to leave later in the day on his first major trip to the Mideast to try to build momentum for peace in that troubled region.

Mr. Gul told reporters at the White House that Turkey will continue to work alongside the United States toward peace, stability and prosperity.

“We share a common vision,” he said.

In the months leading to Mr. Erdogan’s Nov. 5 White House appearance, however, U.S.-Turkish relations were at their lowest point in many years.

In 2003, during the buildup to the Iraq war, the Turkish parliament rejected U.S. requests to send troops into Iraq through Turkish territory. And a poll last summer showed just 9 percent of Turks perceived the U.S. favorably.

Despite pleas from the Bush administration and personal appeals from Mr. Gul — then foreign minister — and other prominent Turks, the House Foreign Affairs Committee passed a nonbinding resolution last year that described as genocide the World War I-era deaths of Armenians during the final years of the Ottoman Empire. Turkey reacted by withdrawing its ambassador from Washington.

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