Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Thursday, March 15, 2007

U.S.-Turkish relations could impact Iraq war

In his opening remarks this morning as chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Europe, Congressman Robert Wexler, of Florida, emphasized the importance of U.S.-Turkish relations, particularly in regards to military operations. The witnesses, who further addressed the relational components and the challenges related thereto included the Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, Ambassador Daniel Fried; the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Europe and NATO, Mr. Dan Fata; and General Joseph Ralston, the Special Envoy Countering the Kurdish Worker’s Party (PKK).

Turkey, a secular, democratic majority Muslim country, is of strategic importance to the U.S. According to Ambassador Fried’s statement, 74 percent of the air cargo sent into Iraq, goes through Incirlik Airbase in Turkey. Relations between the two countries, however, may not remain the same depending on the affects of continued PKK violence and the proposed Armenian Genocide Resolution currently before the House of Representatives.

The continued presence of the PKK in southern Turkey and northern Iraq is the single greatest challenge to U.S.-Turkish relations, according to Mr. Fata. “Since 1975, there have been over 30,000 deaths as a result of PKK violence, with some 600 civilian and military deaths in 2006 alone,” he said.

General Ralston expanded on the complexity of the situation, citing northern Iraq as the PKK operational and training grounds. He also offered a few steps to help counter the PKK: “the Iraqi government’s public condemnation of the presence of armed PKK militias in Iraq, the order to close PKK offices in the Iraqi Kurdish region, the facilitation of a PKK declaration of a cessation of hostilities that has lasted for almost six months,” and the recent closure of the Makhmour refugee camp, where PKK fighters were hiding.

An Armenian Genocide Resolution bill is soon to be decided upon by the House of Representatives. The resolution calls for the Turkish atrocities against Armenians in 1915 to be officially recognized by the U.S. government as genocide. In response to the proposed bill, Ambassador Fried said, “The [Turkish] Administration has never denied – nor does it dispute or minimize – the historical facts of these mass murders and ethnic cleansing. Each year, the President issues a solemn statement on April 24, Armenian Remembrance Day, recognizing these atrocities and the suffering inflicted on Armenians. The Administration’s goal is to stimulate a candid exploration within Turkish society of these horrific events in an effort to help Turkey reconcile with its painful past and with Armenia.”

However, the passage of the U.S. bill, he continued, “would undercut those voices emerging in Turkey who call for a truthful exploration of these events in pursuit of Turkey’s reconciliation with its own past and with Armenia. Our goal is an opening of the Turkish mind and the Turkish heart. Our fear is that passage of any such resolution would close minds and harden hearts.”

Congressman Wexler further questioned the Ambassador about the precise impact the bill would have on U.S. forces in Iraq, if passed. Ambassador Fried responded that the Turkish government would be under tremendous public and parliamentary pressure to react- likely harming relations with the U.S. and having “an immediate and damaging impact on our troops.” Additionally, Turkish anti-American sentiments- which, as of now, is “broad, but shallow”- would likely deepen. Turkey would be left to believe that their “best friend in the West turned against them,” commented the Ambassador. Both other witnesses held similar views.

As the hearing adjourned, the atmosphere in the room was a seemingly firm indication that, in order to uphold U.S.-Turkish relations and not further complicate the current U.S. military strategy in Iraq, the U.S. should avoid passing the resolution but still use diplomatic relations with Turkey, Iraq, and the government of Kurdistan to pressure the PKK into halting its terrorist activities.

For the complete text of each witness testimony, click here.


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