Gates Meets with Turks, Urges Open Dialogue
By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
EN ROUTE TO WASHINGTON, Feb. 28, 2008 Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates today called his meetings with top Turkish leaders in Ankara, Turkey, “productive” and said he believes the Turks are working harder to keep the Iraqi government aware of their country’s current counterterrorism operations in northern Iraq.
“The key for all partners is transparency, cooperation and communication,” Gates said today in a news conference after meeting with National Defense Minister Mehmet Vecdi Gonul, his Turkish counterpart. The secretary also met with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul.
Gates said counterterrorism operations by the Turkish military that began Feb. 21 in northern Iraq are complex. He added that Turkey’s right to defend itself needs to be balanced with maintaining Iraqi sovereignty.
Turkish military forces crossed into northern Iraq to prevent a militant Kurdish nationalist group known as the PKK from launching attacks into Turkey. U.S. officials classify the PKK as a terrorist organization.
In each of his meetings in Turkey, Gates said, he pushed three main points: that dialogue with Iraqi and Kurdish regional governments must continue; that Turkey must be more transparent in its cross-border operations, including numbers of troops and areas of operations; and that military action alone will not solve Turkey’s problem with the PKK.
“It should be clear that military actions alone will not end this threat,” Gates said. “While it is certainly part of the equation, there must be simultaneous efforts made with nonmilitary initiatives. … That is the only way to isolate terrorists from the population and provide the long-term solution to the problem.”
In a meeting with reporters traveling with back to Washington with him, Gates also stressed the importance of Turkey wrapping up its operations as quickly as possible.
Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said Turkish officials made it clear to the secretary that they believe it is in their best interest to complete their counterterrorism operations in northern Iraq and accomplish their objectives quickly. Morrell said Gates’ meetings in Turkey were “businesslike,” but not tense.
“These were serious issues to be discussed, and they were discussed in a serious manner,” he said. “But they were discussed among friends.”
Gates told reporters he thinks the meetings were “productive.”
“I think there was a real dialogue, and we were both listening,” he said.
Gates said he believes that the Turkish government is working harder to keep the Iraqi and Kurdish governments updated on their operations and intentions. A commission returned from Baghdad just last night, he said.
“Their concern is finding the balance in terms of how much they can say publicly without compromising their military operations,” Gates said.
Gates conceded that the situation is “awkward” for the United States, caught between wanting to ensure stability in Iraq, but also supporting the counterterrorism efforts of a long-time ally.
““A lot of Iraqi trade goes across that border,” the secretary added, “and so I think that it’s important that these two neighbors … are talking regularly and at a number of different levels, and I have the sense that that process is under way.”
Morrell said Turkish leaders made it clear to Gates that security and stability in Iraq are as important to Turkey as they are to the United States.
“I believe they were very receptive to the secretary’s recommendation that they go the extra mile and keep open lines of communication,” Morrell said.
Gates said he did not discuss a specific timetable for the Turks ending their operations in northern Iraq.
At the news conference, Gates praised the longstanding alliance between the United States and Turkey and said the two nations have a very broad and strong bilateral relationship, especially on defense matters. He thanked the country’s leaders for their “prominent role” in operations in Afghanistan and Kosovo. He also pledged continued U.S. support in modernizing the Turkish military.