Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

The Obameter

Improve relations with Turkey, and its relations with Iraqi Kurds

"Barack Obama and Joe Biden will lead a diplomatic effort to bring together Turkish and Iraqi Kurdish leaders and negotiate a comprehensive agreement that deals with the PKK threat, guarantees Turkey's territorial integrity, and facilitates badly needed Turkish investment in and trade with the Kurds of northern Iraq. Barack Obama and Joe Biden will support the promotion of democracy, human rights, and freedom of expression in Turkey and support its efforts to join the European Union."

Updates

Diplomatic effort delivered

This is a multipart promise, and President Barack Obama took major steps toward keeping several facets of it in a visit to Turkey on April 6, 2009, which included an address to the Turkish Parliament.

"This is my first trip overseas as president of the United States," Obama said at the start of his address. "I've been to the G20 summit in London, and the NATO summit in Strasbourg, and the European Union summit in Prague. Some people have asked me if I chose to continue my travels to Ankara and Istanbul to send a message to the world. And my answer is simple: Evet -- yes. Turkey is a critical ally. Turkey is an important part of Europe. And Turkey and the United States must stand together -- and work together -- to overcome the challenges of our time."

And here's what Obama said about cooperating with Iraq's Kurdish leaders and dealing with the PKK threat (the PKK is a militant and violent separatist organization that seeks an independent Kurdish state in Turkey):

"Make no mistake, though: Iraq, Turkey and the United States face a common threat from terrorism," Obama said. "That includes the al-Qaida terrorists who have sought to drive Iraqis apart and destroy their country. That includes the PKK. There is no excuse for terror against any nation. As president, and as a NATO ally, I pledge that you will have our support against the terrorist activities of the PKK or anyone else. These efforts will be strengthened by the continued work to build ties of cooperation between Turkey, the Iraqi government, and Iraq's Kurdish leaders, and by your continued efforts to promote education and opportunity and democracy for the Kurdish population here inside Turkey."

Later in the address, Obama was unequivocal in his support for Turkey joining the European Union.

"So let me be clear: The United States strongly supports Turkey's bid to become a member of the European Union," Obama said. "We speak not as members of the EU, but as close friends of both Turkey and Europe. Turkey has been a resolute ally and a responsible partner in transatlantic and European institutions. Turkey is bound to Europe by more than the bridges over the Bosphorous. Centuries of shared history, culture, and commerce bring you together. Europe gains by the diversity of ethnicity, tradition and faith -- it is not diminished by it. And Turkish membership would broaden and strengthen Europe's foundation once more."

Further diplomatic dialogue with Turkey was advanced when Obama welcomed Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey to the White House on Dec. 7.

In a news conference after the private meeting, a reporter asked Obama whether there was "any new and concrete U.S. action plan for disarmament and the elimination of the PKK terror organization in northern Iraq?"

Said Obama: "Well, what the prime minister and I have discussed is coordinating closely in dealing with the problem of the PKK. We have stated before and I have reaffirmed since I came into office that the United States considers PKK a terrorist organization, and that the threat that it poses not only in Turkey but also in Iraq is one that is of deep concern. And as NATO allies, we are bound to help each other defend our territories. More broadly, I think that it is important for us to have a consistent position with respect to terrorism wherever it takes place.

"So we discussed how we can coordinate militarily. I will tell you that with respect to the issue of the PKK, I think that the steps that the prime minister has taken in being inclusive towards the Kurdish community in Turkey is very helpful, because one of the things we understand is, is that terrorism cannot just be dealt with militarily; there is also social and political components to it that have to be recognized.

"With respect to Iraq, I think the degree to which the Kurdish population within Iraq feels effectively represented within the central government in Baghdad, to the extent that we can resolve some long-term pressing issues like Kirkuk, the more I think that Kurds will recognize that their interests are not in supporting any kind of military activity but rather in working through conflicts politically, in a way that allows everybody to be prosperous. And that's the kind of process that we would encourage."

We think these meetings with Turkish leaders, during which all of the issues highlighted in the promise were discussed and promoted, is enough to satisfy the diplomatic efforts promised by Obama in the campaign. And so we move this one to Promise Kept.

Sources:

White House Web site, Remarks by President Obama to the Turkish Parliament , April 6, 2009

White House Web site, Readout of Call on Saturday between President Obama and President Abdullah Gul of Turkey , Oct. 17, 2009

White House Web site, Statement by the Press Secretary on the Visit of Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey , Oct. 29, 2009

White House Web site, Remarks by President Obama and Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey after meeting , Dec. 7, 2009