The State Department offered guarded praise Thursday to a Kurdish nationalist group on the U.S. list of foreign terrorist organizations after the group’s jailed leader called for a truce with the government of Turkey.
Abdullah Ocalan, who heads the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), made international headlines early Thursday with his call for a cessation of violence in the group’s slow-burning but decades-old war against Turkish authorities and Turkish military forces.
More than 40,000 people are believed to have been killed as the PKK has sought to carve out an ethnic Kurdish homeland in Turkey’s southeastern region near the border with Iraq.
While U.S., Turkish and European authorities blame the PKK for carrying out countless terrorist-style attacks against Turkish targets over the years, the Turkish military has also long waged a campaign to root out the organization’s leaders, both inside Turkey and in Kurdish-dominated northern Iraq.
Thursday’s announcement was cautiously welcomed by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was cited by news agencies as calling it a “positive” step, and saying Turkish military troops would agree to halt future “armed actions” against the PKK should the organization hold to Mr. Ocalan’s word.
While the PKK remains on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations — where it has existed since 1997 — officials at Foggy Bottom responded with praise for both sides of the conflict.
“The United States welcomes today’s announcement by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) to halt the violence as a positive step toward ending more than three decades of tragic violence in Turkey,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement. “This violence has claimed too many lives and too many futures, and must end.”
“We applaud the courageous efforts of the government of Turkey and all parties concerned to achieve a peaceful resolution that will advance democracy in Turkey and improve the lives of all of Turkey’s citizens,” Mrs. Nuland said.
The military leader of the PKK, meanwhile, said that he “very strongly” supported Mr. Ocalan’s call for the truce, according to a report by the British Broadcasting Corporation, which noted that announcement arrives after months of talks between the PKK and Turkish goverment officials.