Turkish officials have been conducting intense diplomatic efforts on various fronts as complementary moves to recent and visible steps taken by the government and pro-Kurdish opposition figures as well as key state institutions to bring about a permanent end to the fight between Turkish security forces and the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Interior Minister Beşir Atalay discussed measures to end PKK terror and resolve the Kurdish issue with Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani in Arbil on Sunday.
Atalay’s visit will be followed by a visit from National Security Council (MİT) Undersecretary Hakan Fidan, who recently went to the US for talks on the PKK issue. Fidan is expected to visit Arbil within the next few weeks for talks on the same issue.
Turkish newspaper Taraf reported on Tuesday that Fidan paid a secret visit to Baghdad earlier this month before visiting Washington. In Baghdad, Fidan held talks with the intelligence chief of the federal government, Taraf reported, citing “Ankara-based reliable sources.”
In a July interview with Today’s Zaman, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said he backed the PKK’s possible farewell to arms so that it could transform itself into a political actor, and added that any campaign against terrorism should include political and social measures along with military ones.
“If the PKK lays down arms and becomes a political party, this would be a positive development. As long as there are no weapons and no terror, countries in the region, including Turkey, can have dialogue with it. If it lays down arms, we can also welcome back 1,500 Syrian-origin terrorists within the PKK,” Assad said at the time.
As of yesterday in Ankara, Atalay was holding security talks with a US military delegation led by the top US commander in Iraq, Gen. Lloyd Austin. Austin was also expected to hold talks with the Turkish General Staff.
Speaking to reporters ahead of his meeting with the US general, Atalay told reporters that he will visit Syria on Saturday for talks on the PKK issue.
Atalay, meanwhile, denied news reports suggesting that he had disclosed that Turkish authorities have been holding talks with jailed PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan during his talks with Barzani.
“However, our northern Iraq visit is important. Very important issues have been discussed. As a matter of fact, at the moment we are focused on this matter with all of its dimensions. Today’s meeting will be a follow-up to these [talks],” Atalay added, referring to his meeting with Austin.
“Afterwards, there will be other meetings too. On Saturday, we are going to Syria. We will discuss other parts of this issue with Syria. Later, we will have other visits. All of us have been exerting the utmost effort to resolve this problem of Turkey,” he said, without elaborating.
The reports, which were firmly ruled out by Atalay, cited the records of the meeting between Atalay and Barzani kept by Iraqi Kurdish officials as a source.
“We hold meetings, including with İmralı [an explicit reference to Öcalan as he is serving a life sentence in a prison on İmralı Island in the Sea of Marmara], to resolve the issue. İmralı is close to us at the point of resolution,” Atalay was quoted as saying by Milliyet on Tuesday.
Atalay said, however, he had not used an expression such as “We met with Öcalan.” He also denied that he had told Barzani that “Öcalan has actually responded positively to the Turkish government’s policies for resolving the issue.”
The PKK, which took up arms in 1984 to fight for an ethnic homeland in southeastern Turkey, is listed as a terrorist organization by a large majority of the international community including the United States and the European Union.
All recent hectic contacts among Iraqi, Turkish and US officials indicate that a trilateral security committee was first established back in November 2008 to coordinate the three countries’ efforts to eliminate the PKK, which infiltrates Turkey from its bases in northern Iraq.
In April, the US Embassy in Ankara announced that officials from Turkey, the United States and Iraq had agreed on a joint plan to combat the PKK. The agreement was the result of a trilateral security committee meeting held in İstanbul on April 11.
The details of the action plan have so far not been disclosed by any of the parties. At the time, the embassy statement only said: “The Trilateral Action Plan sets out the guidelines for the future work of the Committee and contains the actions that should be taken to facilitate joint efforts against the PKK. Participants have expressed their commitment to rapidly work on the implementation of the trilateral action plan.”
Atalay, Iraqi Minister of State for National Security Shirwan al-Waili and US Maj. Gen. Joseph Anderson, chief of staff of US Forces-Iraq, led the delegations participating in the meeting. It was the fifth meeting of the trilateral committee.
Later in July, as part of the trilateral mechanism, Turkish, US and Iraqi military officials met to discuss joint measures against the PKK. The meeting in the Turkish border town of Silopi involved commanders in charge of border security from Turkey and Iraq and a commander from the Baghdad headquarters of the US forces in Iraq; it was the first time that the Iraqi border commander and the Turkish corps commander responsible for the Turkey-Iraq border had met.