Erdogan returns empty-handed

The visit by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Washington underscored the lingering tension in US-Turkish ties. US President George W. Bush reaffirmed his support for Ankara’s EU ambitions but, in practice, there is not much Washington can do there. Erdogan’s main goal was to extract a US pledge to act against the PKK, an outlawed Kurdish group, in Iraq. He should not feel very satisfied. Efforts to bridge the chasm between the two sides were in vain as national interests diverge. The Bush administration has not forgotten Turkey’s refusal to allow US troops to use Turkish soil to stage an attack on Iraq and is unhappy with the growing anti-American wave sweeping the predominantly Muslim nation. Ankara would have rather harmed its ties with the superpower rather than see the establishment of a Kurdish state in northern Iraq threaten the integrity of its own state. Ankara has more reasons to worry. Despite repeated promises, the Americans have done little to curb Kurdish guerrillas in northern Iraq. It’s not so much that the Americans sympathize with the Kurds politically; they would rather keep their alliance with the Kurds to maintain equilibrium in the region. The US needs Turkey because of its geostrategic position. On the other hand, an independent Kurdistan would meet all the conditions of a stable regional ally. Thanks to the considerable Kurdish minorities in the neighboring states, the US would be able to exert pressure and play games with Syria and Iran. Washington is trying to keep a balance but the Kurdish card seems to be the strongest. The US does not want to undermine Turkey’s national security but its policies in fact work in that direction. Worse still, the US is trying soothe Ankara’s woes by backing its positions on Cyprus and the Aegean.