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August 01, 2011, Monday

Was Obama tricked during a meeting in Turkey?

While reading the terrorist Kurdish Communities Union (KCK) indictment the other day, I came across an interesting piece of information that was not publicized much at the time a court in Diyarbakır made it public in June 2010.

According to wiretap records obtained by the prosecutors with a judge's permission, United States President Barack Obama, who paid a visit to Turkey in early April, was handed a letter written by Sabri Ok, the KCK leader who is also responsible for the European operations of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), designated by the US and the EU as a terrorist organization. Interestingly enough Ok was designated a “narcotics trafficker” in April 2011, by the US Department of the Treasury pursuant to the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act.

“We are striking at the heart of Kongra-Gel [also known as the PKK] with this action against its founders, key leaders and sources of funding and will continue efforts to suppress the flow of illicit narcotics proceeds to this organization in support of its terrorist activities,” David S. Cohen, acting undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said at the time of the announcement (of the act). Though the designation of Ok came two years after Obama's visit to Turkey, the US named the PKK as a significant foreign narcotics trafficker under the Kingpin Act in May 2008 for its history in drug trafficking, spanning more than two decades. The State Department already designated Kongra-Gel as a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” in 2001 pursuant to Executive Order 13224 and as a “Foreign Terrorist Organization” in 1997.

How come Obama accepted a letter written by a known drug lord on behalf of PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan? Was it something spontaneous? Was Obama tricked at the spot? Or was the embassy unprepared for such a possibility? We do not know.

What we do know, however, is that the letter was given to Obama personally by Ahmet Türk, the leader of the now defunct pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP), when he met with the president in the Turkish Parliament for a tête-à-tête meeting just before Obama was to deliver his speech to members of Parliament on April 6, 2009. According to evidence in the KCK trial, Öcalan first tried to get the letter to Obama before the US president embarked on a three-day tour of Turkey in April. On March 11, 2009, Öcalan, through his attorneys, instructed Ok to draft the letter and have it delivered to Obama through Massoud Barzani, the leader of the Kurdistan Regional Government, or Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. “This letter must be delivered to Obama before he comes here,” Öcalan said.

It appears the plan to relay the message to Obama before he came here fell apart. Barzani and Talabani most likely did not want be seen as “couriers” for the drug-dealing terrorist leader. The PKK/KCK leadership came up with a back-up plan to hand the letter to Obama while he was having a meeting with the DTP leader in the Turkish Parliament. On April 2, 2009, according to the transcript of a wiretap, Şinasi Tur, another KCK suspect, placed an emergency call to Ok, asking about the letter he was drafting for Obama. Tur tells him to send the letter right away. Ok responds, saying, “Alright, I am preparing it myself,” acknowledging authorship. Two days later, on April 4, Ok calls KCK operatives in Turkey and orders them to issue statements and to organize mass rallies through a number of front organizations in order to present a different picture to Obama, who was scheduled to land in Turkey on April 6.

Tasked to deliver Öcalan's letter to Obama personally, DTP leader Türk did not even object to the original “joint meeting” format initially offered by the US Embassy in Ankara, while the other party leaders refused to meet with Obama under such a setting. Following criticism by two major opposition leaders who asked for a tête-à-tête meeting with Obama, the US officials had to change the format, setting aside separate timeslots for every leader. Türk, on the other hand, said he would meet with Obama regardless of whether the meeting was arranged as a tête-à-tête or a joint meeting. This is because Türk's order was clear: He had to deliver the letter, no matter how.

In a WikiLeaks cable dated April 27 and dispatched from the US Embassy in London, Türk offered quite a surprising picture of the readout from a private meeting with Obama he had on April 6. He said to the audience during the April 22 roundtable at Chatham House that Obama did not name the PKK as terrorists in his meeting with him. “One has to be careful how one labels groups. The PKK is not al-Qaeda,” Obama reportedly said according to political officer Greg Berry, who filed the cable. While Türk acknowledged that it is official US policy to list the PKK as a terrorist organization, he implied that Obama gave the impression that he does not believe it to be the case. The Turkish press coverage of the meeting indicated, however, that Obama had asked the DTP to reject violence, contradicting Türk's account.

According to reports, opening up a branch for the DTP (now replaced by the Peace and Democracy Party [BDP]) in Washington, D.C., was also raised during the Türk-Obama meeting. In fact, the then-US ambassador to Turkey, James F. Jeffrey, came together with members of the DTP during August 2009 to discuss the details for opening the branch for the Kurdish party. Jeffrey said he would give all the necessary help in this regard and promised support. A year later, on May 6, 2010, the BDP finally opened up its representative office in the US capital. Türk attended the opening with BDP leader Selahattin Demirtaş. Because he was in Washington, Türk offered a completely different account of his meeting with Obama during a speech he delivered at the Carnegie Endowment a day before the official opening.

In any case, one cannot help but wonder why Obama, through an intermediary, had to conduct business with a notorious terrorist leader and accept a letter written by a known drug trafficker. It could be possible that US Embassy officials did not anticipate this move or someone from his staff dropped the ball. How come the National Security Agency (NSA) did not pick up the chatter between Ok and other KCK suspects about the plan to deliver a letter to Obama while the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) already knew what would happen? Did the Turkish intelligence organization fail to relay this critical information to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the US Secret Service?

How is it possible that the State Department, a meticulous overseer, can advise former President Jimmy Carter against a meeting with Hamas officials out of concern for legitimacy and credibility while saying nothing to the sitting president about a meeting with the Kurdish politician who, for all intents and purposes, was simply a courier delivering the terrorist leader's letter, drafted by a drug lord. Did Obama violate the Kingpin Act by conducting this business? Should we think that Obama was played big time? If so, the key question now is “By whom?”

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