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Iraq, Turkey Vow To Boost Ties, Act Against PKK Rebels

Jalal Talabani (file photo) (RFE/RL) Iraqi President Jalal Talabani says his country wants "strategic and solid" relations with Turkey, reiterating that Kurdish rebels will not be tolerated inside the country.

The visit to Turkey by Talabani -- who is himself an ethnic Kurd -- reflects diplomatic efforts to ease tensions between the two countries after a Turkish military operation aimed at rebels of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in northern Iraq.

Talabani said at a joint press conference with Turkish Premier Abdullah Gul in Ankara on March 7 that Iraq is continuing to put pressure on Kurdish rebels to lay down their arms.

Pledging Help

Talabani said he has told Iraqi Kurdish autonomous region officials to halt the activities of PKK fighters.

"We have requested from the Kurdish government to put pressure on PKK units to leave the area or give up their weapons," he said. "Either they give up their weapons and make way for peace or they can leave the area because it is not possible for the Kurdish government to allow armed forces to be present on the Kurdish-Iraq border, which creates problems with our neighbor, Turkey, with whom we have great economic and political ties."

Talabani's pledge is not new. But the Iraqi president said the two countries would discuss a "comprehensive security agreement."

In response to a question about whether Turkey would consider nonmilitary ways to end the conflict with autonomy-seeking Kurdish rebels, Gul said Turkey cannot allow PKK attacks to continue.

"Whoever bears weapons, whoever is after terror, the Turkish state could definitely not accept this as no country could accept the existence of a terror group on its soil," he said.

His words echo those of the Turkish military, which warned this week that it could carry out more cross-border strikes on the rebels if need be.

Good Neighbors?

Welcoming Talabani to Ankara for his first visit as head of state, Gul expressed confidence that the two states can build a "great neighborly relationship."

The previous Turkish president, Ahmet Necdet Sezer, declined to invite Talabani, amid tension over the activities of PKK rebels based in northern Iraq.

Speaking at the press conference, Talabani said Iraq wants a "model relationship for the Middle East" with Turkey as well as closer bilateral energy, economic, cultural, and political ties.

He also thanked Turkey for its help during difficult times.

"Turkey has helped us a lot and I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Turkish people and Turkish leaders and the Turkish armed forces because during the hard times, when other countries would not even grant [Iraqis] a visa, Turkey opened its doors to hundreds of [Iraqi] refugees, opened its doors to us," Talabani said.

Gas Pipeline Talks

The warm messages followed recent tensions between the neighbors over a weeklong ground incursion by the Turkish army into northern Iraq to hunt PKK rebels, which ended eight days ago.

Meeting today with Turkish business leaders, Talabani urged them to invest massively in Iraq, citing "progress" in the country's economy.

Turkey's deputy minister for foreign trade, Kursda Tuzmen, said the two neighbors will conclude an agreement for a "stronger economic partnership" by the end of May. He said Turkey's priority is to invest in the development of Iraqi gas fields for import and transit to Europe.

Meanwhile, Turkish Energy Minister Hilmi Guler cited plans to build a second pipeline from Iraq's oil center of Kirkuk to Yumurtalik in southern Turkey. Both Tuzmen and Guler spoke after talks with Iraqi Oil Minister Hussein Shahristani.

Talabani is expected to hold talks with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan before wrapping up his visit.

RFE/RL Iraq Report

RFE/RL Iraq Report

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