27 June 2004 (RFE/RL) - U.S. President George W. Bush met with Turkish leaders today ahead of a two-day NATO summit that starts on 28 June in Istanbul.
Reports from Ankara say Bush's meetings with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Ahmet Necdet Sezer today focused on the security situation in neighboring Iraq. Turkey is concerned that Iraqi Kurds could fuel the Kurdish separatist movement in southeastern Turkey.
Bush said at the start of the talks that Turkey is a model for secular Muslim democracies around the world.
"I appreciate so very much the example your country has set on how to be a Muslim country, and at the same time, a country which embraces democracy and rule of law and freedom," Bush said. "And so, I'm so grateful for your invitation. Thank you very much for it, and I look forward to a fruitful discussion with you and with our NATO partners."
Bush's visit to Turkey and the NATO summit come as Iraqi militants with suspected links to Al-Qaeda threaten to execute three Turkish hostages unless Ankara withdraws from Iraq all Turkish contractors who work with U.S. authorities there.
Turkish Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul said after meeting U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in Istanbul today that Ankara never gives in to the demands of terrorists.
Meanwhile, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has signaled that the leaders of NATO countries are expected to support a request by the incoming Iraqi transitional government on help to equip and train Iraqi security forces.
"I am confident here in Istanbul [that NATO] leaders will give the final approval to the answer to [Iraqi] Prime Minister [Iyad] Allawi's letter. Prime Minister Allawi asked NATO about training -- training of security forces and security institutions," De Hoop Scheffer said. "And [final approval] is the answer I am confident that the heads of state and government are going to give. And I think it's very important that [NATO] ambassadors in Brussels [on Friday] did reach initial agreement about this."
De Hoop Scheffer explained that a series of conditions have been met which would make a NATO presence in Iraq legitimate under international law.
"The conditions I have always mentioned, as far as NATO and Iraq are concerned, are met," De Hoop Scheffer said. "There is a [United Nations] Security Council resolution. The government of Prime Minister Allawi and President Al-Yawer Ghazi is fully legitimized by Resolution 1546 of the United Nations. There is a request of this sovereign, legitimate Iraqi government. And [NATO] heads of state and government are going to give their reaction to that request. And that's why I think the initial agreement by the [NATO] ambassadors is so important. Prime Minister Allawi will have an answer on what he has asked."
Diplomats in Brussels say the positive response to Allawi's request was agreed upon by envoys in Brussels after three rounds of tense negotiation that echoed last year's divisions over the U.S.-led war to topple former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
But the text of that preliminary NATO agreement did not specify which forces will be trained, where the training would take place or how it would be done.
Yesterday at a summit in Ireland, Bush and European Union leaders pledged joint support on the Iraqi request.