Super Cobra helicopter sale to Turkey cleared in US Congress

Congressional approval process for the sale of three AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopters to Turkey has completed by Monday. 

Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters

The Obama administration formally notified the US Congress on Oct. 28 of an unusual proposal to take three AH-1W “Super Cobra” attack helicopters from the US Marine Corps inventory and sell them to Turkey.

According to US laws, the administration needs to notify the Congress over the sale of arms to other countries and seek its authorization. If an arms sale is to a NATO member country, the Congress has 15 days to reject or the sale will be automatically authorized.

Turkey has a long-standing request for Super Cobras helicopters. It has a shortage of these helicopters, required in its ongoing fight against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terrorists, who have increased their violent attacks.

The Congressional approval process of the sale of the $111-million helicopters to Turkey completed as no motion that would block the sale was brought up to the agenda of the Congress.

The attack helicopters are believed to be delivered in couple months after technical screening.



15 November 2011, Tuesday / TODAYSZAMAN.COM,

Ankara gives double-barrel anti-PKK fight

Turkey will raise the pressure on both Arbil and Baghdad to further cooperate in its fight against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the Turkish foreign minister said yesterday. “While launching an intensified and deep relationship with all segments of Iraq, we have also intensified our contacts with the Iraqi central government and northern Iraqi regional government for the full elimination of the terror organization from Iraq,” Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu speaks at meeting. DAILY NEWS photo, Emrah GÜREL
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu speaks at meeting. DAILY NEWS photo, Emrah GÜREL

“We will continue to increase our demands and pressure on them,” Davutoğlu added.

Masoud Barzani, leader of the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), recently paid a three-day visit to Istanbul on Turkey’s invitation to discuss possible means to jointly fight the PKK. Barzani, himself a Kurd whose fundamental political goal is to establish an independent Kurdish state, did not promise much but acknowledged Turkey’s concerns.

The fight against terror is among the top priorities of Turkey’s foreign policy, Davutoğlu said, vowing to prevent the PKK from raising funds in European countries.

“It is not just the physical existence of the terror organization in northern Iraq, but the financial support coming from these EU countries that makes these terror acts happen,” he said.

Cooperation between Turkey and the United States was also strengthened by fresh steps taken during Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama in New York that made the transfer of four Predators to Adana’s İncirlik Base possible, Davutoğlu said. “We will not allow any vacuum in Iraq during the U.S. withdrawal process from the country.”

Davutoğlu also linked the increase in terror acts with Turkey’s rise as a democratic and economic power and hinted that these attacks were used by powers who wanted to prevent Turkey from realizing its vision of becoming a regional leader.

Monday, November 14, 2011
ANKARA- Hürriyet Daily News

‘Turkey in command of newly deployed Predators’ missions’

Ankara has claimed it will have sole responsibility for the routes and missions of four US Predator drones deployed to an air base in southeastern Turkey last month to help with efforts to track down and gather intelligence on Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terrorists. The drones in Turkey will be operational after those in Iraq take off for their last mission on Nov. 22.

The US has deployed four Predator drones in Turkey, two of which are already based at İncirlik Air Base in Adana and are used to monitor the PKK’s movements. (Photo: Reuters)
The US has deployed four Predator drones in Turkey, two of which are already based at İncirlik Air Base in Adana and are used to monitor the PKK’s movements. (Photo: Reuters)

“In line with the US plan to pull out of Iraq, Predators will fly for the last time from Iraq on Nov. 22; from then onwards the four predators currently based in Turkey will be taking over surveillance missions,” Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu was quoted by the Anatolia news agency as saying on Saturday.

The foreign minister’s words came following media reports that the US had deployed four drones in Turkey. He confirmed that two of the Predators were already based at İncirlik Air Base in Adana and would be taking up surveillance in a timely manner so as not to leave any gaps after US forces leave Iraq. “The data provided by those predators will be shared in real time by a unit in Turkey and the routes for the Predators will be determined solely by the Turkish Armed Forces [TSK] and our military officials,” Davutoğlu said, brushing off speculation that the US might remain in charge of the drones’ operations after they are based in Turkey.

The foreign minister clarified it was Turkey that requested the continuation of drone surveillance after the US pullout as the country has greatly benefited from data obtained by the unmanned aerial vehicles in its fight against the PKK. Any gap in the gathering of intelligence by the drones could endanger Turkish forces, which often experience ambush attacks from the PKK. The timely deployment of the Predators before the US concludes its flights in Iraq is expected to enable the surveillance to go uninterrupted.

The four US drones arrived at İncirlik in late October, the Taraf daily reported on Friday, as it claimed that their deployment happened days before Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan discussed a request to purchase drones to be used in the fight against the PKK with US President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the recent G-20 summit in Paris.

The deployment of the US drones in Turkish territory is separate from the request to purchase drones from the US. In September The Washington Post reported that Turkey sought the deployment of a fleet of US drones in its territory as a measure against the PKK following the US withdrawal from Iraq. Later in September Erdoğan said the US had agreed in principle to the Turkish request to deploy its drones on Turkish soil. In addition to hosting the US drones Turkey also intends to buy its own armed drones from the US. Turkey is seeking to purchase MQ-9 Reapers, a larger and more modern version of the Predator.

Taraf reported that the drones would be used to monitor the PKK’s movements but they would not provide real-time data from their surveillance flights for Turkish authorities, and data from the drones’ flights would be sent to the US before reaching Turkish officials. Davutoğlu brushed off this claim by saying that Turkish personnel would be involved first-hand in the command of the flights and the intelligence gathered would be delivered to Turkish authorities without any delays.

UAV pieces in fishing net on Turkish shore spark Heron controversy

Pieces of an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that were found in a fisherman’s net on the southern coast of Turkey have sparked a controversy as they might belong to a Heron, a trademark piece of equipment from the Israeli military that is used to gather intelligence, giving way to speculation that Israel might be conducting surveillance missions over Turkey, which maintains a closed airspace to Israeli military planes.

Media reports on the discovery of debris from an UAV by fishermen fishing close to the southern coastline of Turkey’s Mersin province stirred controversy over the weekend as some media outlets reported that the pieces belonged to Israeli Herons and not to US Predators. Turkey’s airspace is closed to the Israeli air force ever since the countries entered a bitter phase in their relations in the aftermath of last year’s bloody raid on a Gaza-bound humanitarian aid ship that not only claimed the lives of nine peace activists, but also caused Turkey to slam Israel with sanctions, freezing military agreements and downgrading the level of diplomatic contact sharply.

On the same night of the flotilla raid, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) assaulted the İskenderun Naval Base, where seven Turkish security personnel were killed. Turkish officials at the time reacted to the timing of the assaults as being “significant” in the sense that it might reveal cooperation between the PKK and Israel, the Cihan news agency reported on Saturday. More than a year after the assault, the piece of an UAV fueled allegations of such a cooperation and raised questions whether Herons may have actually gathered information on the İskenderun base and relayed it to the PKK to enable the attack, Cihan reported.

The piece from the vehicle was reportedly brought to the General Staff headquarters in Ankara for further investigation, as local authorities said they did not know for sure how the piece may have gotten to the Turkish shore. It is also speculated that the piece might have been carried by the waves across the Mediterranean before reaching the Turkish coast, but details on the exact location or time of the discovery remain unclear.





13 November 2011, Sunday / TODAY’S ZAMAN, ANKARA

US Congress approves gunship sale to Turkey

U.S. Congress formally approved the sale to the Turkish Army of three U.S.-made AH-1W attack helicopters from the U.S. Marine Corps inventory.

The Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), the Pentagon’s arms-selling body, on Oct. 28 notified Congress of its intention to sell three AH-1W Super Cobra gunships, made by the U.S. Bell Helicopter Textron, to Turkey, whose Army uses these gunships effectively against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been waging a violent campaign in the country’s southeast.

In the event of no opposition from the Senate, Congress’ upper chamber, arms sales to NATO partners become automatic in 15 days. The deadline was Nov. 12 for the Super Cobra deal and it passed without a Senate veto.

Before notifying Congress officially, the DSCA makes informal pre-consultations in the Senate to see if any senators plan to veto an arms deal. It notifies Congress of a planned sale only after it becomes almost certain that the deal will face no obstacles.

Some members of the U.S. House of Representatives, Congress’ lower chamber, have voiced opposition to the Turkish deal, but representatives do not have the veto power of senators.

The deal is worth $111 million and three helicopters are expected to be sent to Turkey in the next few months and be ready for combat before the summer, when the PKK usually launches its attacks.

Turkey had acquired 10 such helicopters in the 1990s, but only six remain operational.

In recent years Ankara has been asking Washington to transfer more AH-1Ws, but the United States rejected earlier Turkish requests, saying its Marine Corps was using all 170 AH-1Ws in the Afghanistan war.

But this time a positive U.S. response was prompted by Ankara’s decision last month to host an X-band radar on its soil as part of a planned NATO shield system to counter potential ballistic missile attacks from rogue states. The U.S. administration proposed the sale from its Marines’ present inventory.

Toward the end of next year, Italy’s AgustaWestland, which has a multibillion-dollar contract for joint production of 50 T-129 attack helicopters with Turkish Aerospace Industries, is expected to begin deliveries to the Turkish Army.

Sunday, November 13, 2011
Ümit Enginsoy
ANKARA – Hürriyet Daily News

PKK finances terrorism through drug trafficking

The terrorist Kurdish Communities Union (KCK) and its armed wing, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), have entered the ranks of the world’s biggest drug cartels, narcotics operations in recent years show. 

Turkish police units seized 44 tons of marijuana in the southeastern province of Diyarbakır, worth an estimated of TL 28 million. (PHOTOS SUNDAY’S ZAMAN)
Turkish police units seized 44 tons of marijuana in the southeastern province of Diyarbakır, worth an estimated of TL 28 million. (PHOTOS SUNDAY’S ZAMAN)

Last week, in the predominantly Kurdish province of Diyarbakır in southeast Turkey, 44 tons of marijuana were seized, worth an estimated TL 28 million. This was the largest operation into the KCK/PKK’s illegal drug business. This is important as KCK/PKK administrators have always claimed their struggle only concerns the Kurdish cause and that the financing was not illegal. Murat Karayılan, the PKK’s number two after its jailed leader Abdullah Öcalan, once said, “Even smoking is prohibited by the PKK, let alone doing drugs,” which was met with an ironic smile by anyone familiar with the terrorist organization’s multi-million dollar narcotics business in the region.

Karayılan’s statement, however, is highly inconsistent, as it is known that illegal narcotics have been one of the organization’s primary financial resources since its beginnings. The US lists Karayılan as a major drug baron; PKK leaders such as Sabri Ok are also listed as drug traffickers. The PKK has become increasingly dominant and important in the global narcotics trade and is now involved at every stage of narcotics production and trafficking. Weapons and ammunition are financed with drug money, but being in this business also makes the PKK the top dog in the Middle East, especially along important drug routes.

The PKK’s rise in narco-terrorism has a long background story. Its members once acted as couriers for important drug lords in the region. When Kurdish businessman Behçet Cantürk — who was no stranger to the narcotics business himself — was suspiciously killed in January 1994, a new era for the PKK began. They took over most of his business, forcing mafia lords dealing narcotics to cooperate with them. Even Cumhur Yakut, labeled by the US as a drug smuggling kingpin in 2008, had to smuggle narcotics for the PKK. Yakut, who is still at large, and many others, don’t have the leeway to take a single step without the knowledge of the PKK, indicating the influence of the PKK in the underground world of the long-time, established drug mafia.

In fact, police operations also show that there has been a major transition in terms of the average drug boss’ profile. There are new families, mostly Kurdish clans, who are in the drug business. About 350 smaller and 30 large clans are believed to be working with the KCK/PKK as their partners, according to intelligence sources. This basically means that the PKK is practically a monopoly in the Turkish and European narcotics trade.

They usually rely on individual couriers in narcotics trafficking, allowing the KCK/PKK to remain behind the scene. If anyone involved is captured, they testify that they are in the business on their own, but recent operations have established that many of those who have been captured are KCK/PKK members, even militants. A report prepared by İ.B., a suspect currently in jail on charges of membership in the KCK, that was seized by police during the investigation clearly indicates that many of the Southeast’s established clans and families as well as district mayors are also in the business, which takes place in Yüksekova, in Hakkari province. İ.B.’s report, which was written under the pseudonym Gever, also shows that Yüksekova, Çukurcu and Şemdinli — all in Hakkari province — are important transitional routes for drug traffickers. Experts say the only possible way to stop drug trafficking is to minimize taxes for trade conducted on Turkey’s borders. This would minimize smuggling, meaning that the PKK’s profiteering by money extorted from smugglers active in the area could not take place. As legal trade routes move to illegal lines because of high customs taxes, smugglers often include illegal narcotics in their cargo, which would normally include legal items.

Drugs, particularly soft drugs such as marijuana, are also part of the PKK’s reward system for its militants. PKK militant K., who was captured by security forces, testified to a court saying: “The organization as of late has been the only dominant power in the drugs trade. All drug lords have to pay a share to the organization. In fact, most of the [narcotics] goods are relocated only through the organization. For example, the organization earned TL 100 million from a batch that was transported only through me. Especially in Europe, nobody can sell drugs without the PKK’s permission. They are the ones who bring buyers and sellers together. That’s not all. They have dealers, their own dealers in large cities, because this brings more money — because this is hot money and is immediately in the house. Those dealing drugs in cities also have to pay a certain commission to the organization. I know that about 10 percent of every sale is given to the organization.” Other PKK militants and informants have confirmed K.’s account.

However, the problem is that the KCK/PKK is not only selling narcotics to Western cities but also poisoning Kurdish children whose rights it claims to defend. According to data from the narcotics police, the average age for starting drug use in the region has fallen significantly in recent years. In Van and Hakkari, the average age is 14, down from 15 just two years ago. An estimated 45 percent of the people in this age group are addicted to illegal substances. This average is estimated to be 60 percent in Hakkari districts and 30 percent among young people in Hakkari.

Mustafa Ç. and Metin Y., two drug dealers in the region whose testimony is included in an indictment of the KCK, say drugs are often a reward given to young people in the East and the Southeast who participate in pro-PKK demonstrations. Mustafa Ç. says: “We give them substances to keep them more energetic. This helps us to direct the masses. This is a policy of [the PKK] and it is something that’s done all the time.”

When asked if he ever used narcotics while he was with the PKK., R.K., another militant who was captured by Turkish security forces, said: “They deal in drugs. They also have plantations in villages. … Some militants are addicted. They can have them do anything in return for drugs. It is getting more and more common inside the organization.”

Narcotics operations have revealed that the PKK has production plantations, particularly since 2004, when it was having trouble financing its activities in spite of money extorted from locals and businessmen. There are known opium and cannabis plantations in Osmaniye and Hatay, in mountain villages, as well as Lice (Diyarbakır) and a large area stretching from Kup to Muş and Bingöl. Rural areas of Hakkari and Van are also replete with such plantations. However, they have no production units for cocaine, which they only trade in as couriers. It is very difficult to produce cocaine for those outside South America because about 300 kilograms of coca leaves are needed to manufacture just one kilogram of cocaine. The world’s cocaine mostly comes from South Africa but is exported to Europe usually through Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey to divert attention to different regions.






13 November 2011, Sunday / HAŞIM SÖYLEMEZ, ISTANBUL

Report: US drones deployed in Turkey

The United States has deployed four Predator drones at an air base in southern Turkey, a news report said on Friday.

This undated handout image provided by the US Air Force shows a MQ-1 Predator unmanned aircraft. (Photo: Reuters)
This undated handout image provided by the US Air Force shows a MQ-1 Predator unmanned aircraft. (Photo: Reuters)

The report, published in the Taraf daily, said a total of four drones arrived at İncirlik Air Base on Oct. 16 and Oct. 23, several days before Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan discussed a Turkish request to purchase drones to be used in the fight against the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) with US President Barack Obama on the sidelines of a G-20 summit in Paris.

But the deployment of the US drones on Turkish territory is separate from the Turkish request to purchase drones from the US. In September, the Washington Post reported that Turkey sought the deployment of a fleet of US drones on its territory as a measure to be used against the PKK following US withdrawal from Iraq. Later in September, Erdoğan said the US has agreed in principle to the Turkish request to deploy its drones on Turkish soil.

In addition to hosting US drones in its soil, Turkey also seeks to buy its own armed drones from the United States, seeking to purchase MQ-9 Reapers, a larger and more modern version of the Predator. The request, however, has been controversial, with some in Congress refusing to sell the aircraft to Turkey given Ankara’s deteriorating relations with Israel, a close US ally. The US administration, on the other hand, is reportedly willing to sell Reapers to Turkey and is trying to persuade the Congress not to block the sale.

Taraf said the drones, now based in İncirlik, will be used to monitor the PKK’s movements, but they will not provide real-time data from their surveillance flights for Turkish authorities. Data from the drones’ flights will be sent to the United States before reaching Turkish officials. No Turkish personnel will be involved in the command of the flights of the drones and no guarantee has been offered to Turkish hosts that the drones will not be used against third countries, Taraf said, citing anonymous military sources.

The lack of Turkish control over flights of US drones, according to the report, means they could change their route and spy on Turkish targets, such as critical military buildings, instead of the PKK targets, without Turkish authorities even noticing.

Turkey’s requests to host US drones and buy its own drones from the US has surfaced as Washington prepares to withdraw its forces from Iraq by end of 2011. US drones based in Iraq as part of the Iraqi operation have been providing Turkish officials with data regarding the PKK’s movements since 2007, as part of Turkish-US cooperation against the terrorist group.

The US administration has also agreed to sell attack helicopters to Turkey. The administration formally notified the Congress on Oct. 28 of a proposal to sell Turkey three attack helicopters, which will reportedly replace those Turkey lost in the fight against the PKK.

Under the $111-million deal, the US will take three AH-1W “SuperCobra” attack helicopters from the US Marine Corps inventory and sell them to Turkey. The sale would boost Turkey’s self-defense as well as regional security and its ability to operate with US forces and other NATO members, a Pentagon notice to lawmakers said.





11 November 2011, Friday / TODAYSZAMAN.COM,

PKK to raise power in Germany, report says

A German institute has predicted that the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party is likely to grow its support and donation base in the EU’s most populous country.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan adress the media during a news conference after a meeting at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany Nov. 2, when Erdoğan complained about the presence of the outlawed PKK in Germany which is also mentioned in a recent report. AP photo
German Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan adress the media during a news conference after a meeting at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany Nov. 2, when Erdoğan complained about the presence of the outlawed PKK in Germany which is also mentioned in a recent report. AP photo

The outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) is likely to increase the size of its support network in Germany in the coming years, according to a recent report authored by a German foundation.

An estimated 11,500 people in Germany are already believed to provide the group with millions of euros in support every year, but the number is expected to rise, according to a recent report from the Institute to Protect the Federal Constitution.

“A significant financial source for the PKK consists of the donations collected from sympathizers in Europe, particularly in Germany. The revenues of the annual Kurdistan festival while sales of books [and other items] also provide significant contributions to the PKK,” said the report.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan noted the report’s findings when he met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel last week and asked the German leader to lend greater support to Turkey’s war on terror.

The PKK is the largest non-Islamist terror organization in Germany, the report said, adding that all its activities were banned on Nov. 22, 1993, in the federal republic. Recognized as a terrorist organization by Turkey and the United States, the PKK was also added to the European Union’s terror list in 2002.

‘PKK has a finance office’ 

The report said the PKK had a finance and economy bureau in Germany to facilitate the transfer of money from to the organization for its 30-year-long fight against Turkey.

Because the organization is banned from engaging in activities under the name of the PKK, the group operates under aliases such as the Federation of Kurdish Associations in Germany (YEK-KOM).

YEK-KOM gives open support to the PKK’s fight against the Turkish army, said the report.

Other organizations, such as Komalen Ciwan and the Kurdistan Freedom Hawks (TAK) are also working under different names to increase the number of young PKK sympathizers.

The report also said some of these young people were sent to northern Iraq to receive training from PKK militants. Komalen Ciwan also organized a festival on July 10, 2010, in Cologne that attracted 5,000 sympathizers.

In Europe, the PKK presents itself differently than in Turkey, the institute said.

“The organization depicts itself as an unarmed group searching for its rights through the democratic means,” the report said.

“However, it shows its real face by failing to commit to its cease-fire declarations and by fighting against Turkey along the country’s border with Iraq,” the report alleged.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Uğur Erdan
ANKARA – Hürriyet

PKK hacks Ministry of Finance website

The Turkish Ministry of Finance has said their official website was hacked late last night by members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) for “purposes of dirty propaganda.”

Finance Minister Mehmet Şimşek. AA Photo
Finance Minister Mehmet Şimşek. AA Photo

The ministry deactivated the website soon after, assuring citizens that it would be back online as soon as possible.

Finance Minister Mehmet Şimşek further said an investigation has been launched to find those responsible.

The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Anatolia News Agency

Turkey’s Baghdad envoy to lead terror fight

The Turkish government has named its ambassador to Iraq as its next undersecretary for public order and security at a time when Ankara is stepping up efforts to combat Kurdish militants in closer cooperation with the Iraqi Kurds.

Murat Özçelik is one of Turkey’s most experienced diplomats on Iraq. AA photo
Murat Özçelik is one of Turkey’s most experienced diplomats on Iraq. AA photo

Ambassador Murat Özçelik will be formally designated to the post in the coming days, a government official told the Hürriyet Daily News on condition of anonymity.

Özçelik is known as one of Turkey’s most experienced diplomats on Iraq, particularly in terms of relations with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq, where the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has long taken shelter in the Kandil Mountains.

Özçelik has advocated cooperation with the Iraqi Kurds against the PKK since the mid-2000s, when Turkey’s relations with northern Iraq were chilly and Ankara rejected any dialogue with them, opting instead to talk to the central government in Baghdad.

Before taking over as ambassador to Baghdad in 2009, Özçelik served as Turkey’s special envoy to Iraq. He is considered to be one of the architects of a shift in Turkish foreign policy toward mending fences with the Iraqi Kurds, seeking their cooperation against the PKK and improving economic ties.

The Undersecretariat of Public Order and Security, which Özçelik will be heading, is responsible for coordinating the fight against terror.

His selection comes amid Ankara’s efforts to foster closer dialogue with KRG head Masoud Barzani, who visited Turkey last week and held talks with the country’s top leaders.

The undersecretary seat had been empty since the July 2011 elections when former Undersecretary Muammer Güler was elected as a deputy from the ruling Justice and Democracy Party (AKP).

Özçelik’s designation was made possible after the government issued a legislative decree last week that enabled officials other than governors to head the undersecretariat.

Ambassador Yunus Demirer will replace Özçelik as Turkey’s new ambassador to Baghdad.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011
Tuesday, November 8, 2011
ANKARA – Hürriyet Daily News

Gül to Syria: Do not use PKK against us

Syria should not even consider sheltering members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) or using the group as a pawn against Turkey, Turkish President Abdullah Gül has told Damascus while also noting Ankara’s flourishing ties with Washington.

President Gül issues another harsh warning to the Syrian administration. DAILY NEWS photo, Selahattin SÖNMEZ
President Gül issues another harsh warning to the Syrian administration. DAILY NEWS photo, Selahattin SÖNMEZ

“I would strongly suggest and would expect that [Damascus] would not get involved in such a dangerous game,” Gül said in recent comments to the Financial Times. “Even though I do not think they would do that, we are still closely following the matter.”

Gül made the comments in the wake of a devastating attack last month by the PKK that killed 24 Turkish troops in the eastern province of Hakkari’s Çukurca district. The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and others.

Gül also pushed back at Iran’s efforts to depict Turkey’s line on Syria as a bid to curry favor with Washington. “When we talk to Iran, we always tell them that we are not against the Syrian regime due to pressure imposed by any other country. It is because of and for the people of Syria.”

Last week, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan hailed ongoing anti-regime protests in Syria as a “glorious resistance” and promised that Turkey would continue to display the necessary “attitude” against Damascus’ crackdown. Erdoğan also expressed regret that the Syrian government had not appreciated Turkey’s friendship and had disregarded its calls for reform.

Gül also said bilateral relations between Turkey and the U.S. had never been better, rejecting Iranian claims that Ankara was merely following Washington’s bidding.

“The period we are going through is the healthiest relations that we have ever had with the U.S,” he said.

“Turkey’s success, especially during the last decade, has impressed the Arab world,” said Gül, adding that his country’s secular, democratic, free-market and Muslim characteristics. “For that reason, they are following us closely and for that reason we have indirect influence.”

This week, Washington announced plans for its first significant arms sale to Turkey since 2009 – a $111m attack helicopter deal. U.S. officials announced the plans to sell three AH-1 Super Cobra helicopters to Ankara following the Oct. 19 attacks.

Speaking about NATO radar, another point of contention between Turkey and Iran, Gül said the system did not single out Tehran. “No single country should be pointed out as an enemy; rather, this is a system against missiles.”

The U.S. has said the system is designed to ward off attacks from Iran, a view that Turkey strongly resists.

Iran has criticized Turkey for agreeing to allow NATO to station an early-warning radar in the southeast of the country to serve as part of the alliance’s missile defense system.

The president also said Ankara would press on with its bid to join the European Union even though some EU member states have begun to alienate public opinion with their “negative attitudes.”

Issuing a pointed aside in regards to Turkey’s low budget deficit and government debt, he said, “At the moment, we are doing much better than most of the EU countries in terms of the Maastricht criteria.”

Tuesday, November 8, 2011
ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily News