Obama voices support for talks on resolving Kurdish issue

Obama voices support for talks on resolving Kurdish issue

Obama has expressed his belief that the proactive measures the Turkish government has been taking will achieve progress in settling the Kurdish issue. (Photo: AP, Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

February 10, 2013, Sunday/ 13:12:00/ TODAY'S ZAMAN

US President Barack Obama has confirmed his country's support for the peace initiative the Turkish government has started with Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), to settle Turkey's decades-old Kurdish issue.

Obama said in an interview that appeared in the Milliyet daily on Sunday that he applauds Turkey's effort to find a peaceful solution to a problem that has caused much suffering.

Noting that the US has always supported Turkey in its fight against terrorism, while at the same time encouraging the steps Turkey has taken to deal with the issue through the use of politics, Obama re-affirmed that the US would continue to extend concrete support in this area. Regarding the governing Justice and Development Party's (AK Party) peace initiative, Obama expressed his belief that the proactive measures the government has been taking will achieve genuine progress in settling the Kurdish issue.

The Turkish government has complained that the international community is not offering sufficient support for the removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power, and that the US, for its part, has appeared for some time to be somewhat unwilling to offer substantial backing to the opposition forces fighting the Syrian regime. However, Obama, who described the situation in Syria as a tragedy during the interview, conducted via email, seems to have taken a resolute attitude against Assad because he acknowledged that the end of the Assad regime will come, sooner or later. The US president also re-affirmed its commitment to expend efforts with Turkey to that end.

Iran's nuclear efforts have long been criticized by the US, and the interview Obama underlined the view that a nuclear Iran would pose a serious threat to all its neighbors, including Turkey. The US president, though stating that he wants to settle the issue in a peaceful way at the negotiating table with Iran, made it clear that the US is resolved in its position to not allow Iran to possess nuclear weapons. Obama admitted that Turkish companies have had to pass up business opportunities because of the sanctions imposed by the US on Iran, and that Turkish people pay a higher price for energy as a result of the same sanctions. However, he also maintained that the price the world would have to pay for gas in the event of Iran succeeding in producing nuclear weapons would be much higher, especially for neighboring countries like Turkey.

Obama also noted Turkey's request for Patriot missile systems and thanked Turkey for allowing these missiles to be deployed in its territory. He pointed out that the aim of the deployment is to protect Turkey, not Israel, against a ballistic missiles threat.

It is known that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan hopes to pay a visit to Washington to speak with Obama. However, rumors among political circles in Turkey say that he has been denied an invitation by the Obama administration, probably on account a divergence of opinion on various issues. Obama admitted that Turkey and the US have problems but that they can still talk sincerely with each other. Calling Erdoğan a good friend and a great partner with whom he has been working closely on global issues, Obama said, “I very much look forward to seeing my friend Prime Minister Erdoğan again.” He also revealed that his team is trying hard to identify a suitable date for the two leaders to meet, adding, “I'm confident that we'll find an opportunity to do so soon.”

Only seven of the 11 questions emailed to the White House by Milliyet's Washington representative were answered by Obama. As noted by the daily's representative, Pınar Ersoy, the questions the US president chose not to answer reveal a great deal. The unanswered questions may be an indication that the divergence of opinion on numerous issues between Turkey and the US persists, although at the same time the two countries may also be cooperating as close partners on a number of issues.

One of the questions Obama chose not to answer asked how the US feels about Turkey's strengthening economic and political ties with the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq while the country's relations with Baghdad have soured in the past year. Turkey has been acquiring oil and similar products from the KRG, and the oil of the region -- although small in amount -- has for some time now been exported via Turkey to international markets, an act harshly protested against by Baghdad, which maintains that it is unlawful for the KRG to export oil without authorization from the Iraqi central government.

A broad energy partnership -- including the building of an oil pipeline -- between northern Iraq and Turkey, ranging from exploration to exportation, has been in place since last year, but the project has been criticized by the US, which fears that the project may pave the way for the Kurds there to break away from Iraq by enabling the Kurdish region to become financially independent, thereby leaving the remaining part of Iraq to fall even further under Iran's influence.

Another question that went unanswered concerned the two countries' diametrically opposed attitudes on an Israeli attack on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip that took place a couple of months ago. While Erdoğan described Israel as a terrorist state following the attack, Obama said Israel had acted in self-defense. To the question whether this divergence of opinion has caused any damage to US-Turkish relations, Obama preferred not to respond.

Questions about Erdoğan's remarks on Turkey's willingness to become a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and whether Obama plans -- as he had so promised during his election campaign in 2008 -- to recognize the ordeal experienced by the Armenians of the Ottoman Empire as genocide, also went unanswered.

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