NEWS

Turkish FM flies to USA for talks on Iraq peacekeeping

ANKARA – With ties between allies at an all-time low, Turkey and the United States are taking steps to amend relations, discussing the possible deployment of Turkish peacekeepers in a stabilizing force in Iraq that would help relieve US soldiers there. Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul travels to Washington today for four days of talks to repair ties further strained by the capture by Americans earlier this month of 11 Turkish soldiers in northern Iraq over an alleged plot to assassinate an Iraqi Kurdish official. Talks will center on possible Turkish contribution to a stabilizing force, first discussed last week, during a visit to the Turkish capital of two senior US generals, Turkish and US officials said. A contribution of peacekeepers from Turkey would come as a turnaround in relations soured since March, when Turkey rejected a US request to use its territory to open a northern front in the Iraq invasion. Repairing ties is crucial for Turkey. The partnership had in the past boosted Turkey’s role in the region and supported its struggling economy. «I believe that this is a timely visit,» Gul told the Anatolia news agency yesterday. «Trust with the United States has to be restored and relations have to be put on a healthy basis.» Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday that the USA had asked Turkey to help patrol Iraq, in a sign of improving relations. Gul said yesterday the sides were holding preliminary talks on a possible Turkish contribution but there was no formal US request yet. «It is that kind of serious dialogue that will be beneficial to putting the two countries’ relations back on the track they want them to be,» US Ambassador Robert Pearson said yesterday, speaking of Gul’s visit. Gul is scheduled to meet with Vice President Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, President George W. Bush’s assistant for national security, and Secretary of State Colin Powell. He is also expected to discuss Turkey’s bid to join the European Union, which is supported by the USA, ways to unite the divided island of Cyprus and Turkey’s economic reforms, officials said. The USA, keen to stabilize Iraq, is also cooperating with Turkey to encourage an estimated 5,000 Turkish Kurdish rebels to lay down arms and leave mountain hideouts in northern Iraq, officials said. Turkey is working on a partial amnesty to encourage rebels not engaged in any violence to return home and those accused of violence to face reduced punishment. Kurdish groups have criticized the government plans, demanding an unconditional amnesty.