The complexities of US-Turkish relations

Despite the mutual efforts that have been made to mend the rift in US-Turkish ties, most recently with talks between US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, relations still appear rather strained. The Bush administration has not forgotten that, at the most critical point of the war in Iraq, Ankara barred US troops from using Turkish territory to open the northern front. Indeed, many in Washington attribute the adverse postwar situation in Iraq to this refusal by Turkey. Turkey put its traditionally good ties with the US on the line because it believes that the establishment of a de facto Kurdish state in northern Iraq would constitute a ticking time bomb threatening its territorial integrity. What really feeds Ankara’s mistrust is that Americans, despite their repeated assurances, are not doing a lot to curb the activities of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in northern Iraq. Even though Washington has not removed the PKK from its blacklist of terrorist organizations, in practice it retains a cautious stance opposite Kurds. And this is not because it has acquired political sympathies for Kurds but because it wants to maintain a balanced approach toward all Kurdish factions. The US needs Turkey because of its strategic position. That is why it is so keen to mend ties. But the US also needs the Kurds. The existence of significant Kurdish minorities in neighboring countries grant the US potential leverage against Syria and Iran. Washington may be trying to maintain a balance. But it is clear that the Kurds are its priority.