The chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Michael G. Mullen, has pledged that his country will continue to cooperate with Turkey on many issues, including the fight against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Speaking to reporters after separate talks with Chief of General Staff Gen. Ilker Basbug and President Abdullah Gül, Mullen also said it was up to the Turkish government to decide whether to continue with cross-border operations against the PKK in northern Iraq for an extended period. "The operations that the US supported were very effective last year," he said, adding that they will continue to support such operations.
The duration of the Turkish military’s government authorization for launching cross-border operations into Iraq is about to expire. Parliament authorized the military to conduct such operations on Oct.17, 2007 for a one-year period. Washington has since then considerably toughened its stance against the PKK, and President George W. Bush declared the group a "common enemy" for the United States, Turkey and Iraq at a landmark White House meeting with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in early November of last year.
The Turkish military has been launching aerial strikes against PKK targets in northern Iraq since Dec. 17, 2007, and the United States supports Turkey’s anti-PKK efforts by providing intelligence about the group and airspace clearance for Turkish fighter jets taking part in the attacks. Turkish troops were also sent into northern Iraq in a major ground offensive against the PKK in February.
Mullen said they appreciate Turkey for participating in the operations in Afghanistan, adding that in the long run the cooperation of the two countries must continue for the prosperity of Afghanistan.
Mullen’s Ankara visit comes at a time of rising US-Russian tensions over Georgia. The United States dispatched warships to the Black Sea to deliver humanitarian aid to its ally Georgia after Russia launched a military incursion there last month, inflaming US-Russian tensions. Russia has expressed doubt over Washington’s humanitarian intentions.
While answering questions from reporters, Mullen pointed out that the American warships are in compliance with the Montreux Convention, which regulates passage through the Turkish Straits to the Black Sea, and that the US does not have any plans for requesting changes in the terms of the convention.