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Turkey: Erdogan Expresses Concern Over Greater Kurdish Autonomy In Iraq

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has reaffirmed Ankara's strong ties with the West and expressed his government's concern over greater Kurdish autonomy in northern Iraq.

New York, 27 January 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Speaking yesterday at the Council on Foreign Relations, a New York-based policy institution, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his government does not believe in a federal state in Iraq based on religious or ethnic divisions:

"The demand in northern Iraq is the demand for federation, as you know. Our basic principle here is the following -- ethnic or sectarian federations, these types of federations, are not welcomed by us. We do not view them favorably. In democracies, these are not healthy approaches, and they do not serve for the formation of a healthy political structure. It will put Iraq in an even more difficult position in the future, and it will create negative development as far as our expectations for Iraq are concerned," Erdogan said.

Erdogan is due to hold talks in Washington tomorrow with U.S. President George W. Bush and has said he will raise Turkish concerns about Iraq.

In his remarks yesterday, Erdogan said one of the main points of departure in Turkey's foreign policy is its participation in the structures of the Western world. "The Muslim identity of the Turkish population has not prevented it from acting intensely with the West, in general, and with Europe, in particular, or from becoming an effective member of European institutions and organizations," he said. "In this context, Turkey has always been a strong advocate of the trans-Atlantic partnership. The successful conclusion of Turkey's accession into the European Union will represent the harmonization of a Muslim society with the peoples of Europe on the basis of common universal and democratic values."

As a secular country with a 98 percent Muslim population, Erdogan said Turkey's foreign policy in the 21st century will be guided by the understanding that the Islamic world should address its problems in a realistic manner and should assume responsibility, rather than blame others.

Erdogan said a significant aspect to Turkey's foreign policy is Ankara's active engagement with its neighbors. "We place a lot of importance on peace in the Middle East because they are our neighbors. Any instability in our neighboring countries is a cause of concern for us, so we would like to see our region all in peace," he said. "And we would be willing to do with great pleasure what we could do to achieve that kind of peace. And we also have good relations with all three countries -- Syria, Palestine, and Israel. And we hope our good relations with these countries will help in any effort we may have to mediation."

Erdogan said Turkey's prominent economic role in Central Asia will be increased and that he looks forward to the opening of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline. "Our country has a vested interest in the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline venture that will tap the vast oil reserves of the Caspian basin," he said. "The transportation of this energy resource to world markets via Turkey by early 2005 will have important implications for the economic development of the region and, consequently, for its stability."

Asked to comment on the Cyprus situation, Erdogan said Turkey welcomes the good offices of the United Nations and its mediating role and is considering a plan put forward by Secretary-General Kofi Annan. But so far, Erdogan said, there is no significant progress on the issue. "With regard to Cyprus, the developments so far unfortunately have been negative. Our government from the very beginning has said that having no solution is 'no solution.' And at the moment, following the 14 December 2003, elections in Cyprus, a new government has been established, and we are working with this new government, and we have to make good use of the process until 1 May," he said.

Just before his New York appearance, Erdogan acknowledged in Davos, Switzerland, that Turkey has approached the UN about reopening Cyprus talks. He said Ankara will make every effort to conclude an agreement before 1 May, when Cyprus is scheduled to become a member of the EU. The benefits of EU membership will be limited to the Greek Cypriot south if the island is not reunited by then.

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