Both Damascus and Tehran have displayed political resolution towards the issue of the presence of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in Iraq as the appropriate solution, while refusing to favor Turkey's plans to launch a military incursion onto Iraqi soil to put an end to the PKK presence there.
"Diplomatic means should be used and dialogue should continue between Iraq and Turkey," Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini told reporters on Sunday. "Any solution that creates tension will only worsen the situation in northern Iraq, although we believe there is a need to confront the terrorist 'grouplets'."
The Turkish Parliament last week approved a government motion authorizing military strikes in northern Iraq for a one-year period against the PKK, whose two-decade-long fight against Turkish security forces has led to the killing of tens of thousands of civilians and soldiers. Syria, which like Iran, Iraq and Turkey has a considerable Kurdish population, infuriated Baghdad by saying it would back Turkish military action against the militants in northern Iraq.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said such an action was Ankara's "legitimate right," prompting Iraqi President Jalal Talabani to say al-Assad had crossed a red line. "We accept this as Turkey's legitimate right. As Syria, we are supporting all decisions by Turkey, and we are standing behind them," al-Assad said during a visit to Ankara last week.
"I have personally refrained from commenting on Syrian positions out of concern for the historical ties that link us to Syria," Talabani said in comments published Saturday in the London-based Asharq al-Awsat daily. "But this time, I could not tolerate this grave violation of all boundaries."
Talabani lived for years in exile in Syria during Saddam Hussein's rule of Iraq. He traveled to Damascus in January, in the first visit by an Iraqi president to Syria in nearly three decades. Unlike Iraq's Shiite leaders and their US backers, he has avoided direct criticism of Syria for its alleged support of Sunni insurgents. On Sunday, Damascus backed down from its position backing a military incursion into Iraq by Turkey, with Syrian Information Minister Muhsen Bilal denying that al-Assad's talks during his recent visit to Turkey touched upon the issue of military action by Turkey against the PKK.
"The idea of any military action against the PKK was never discussed during the talks of President al-Assad with Turkish senior officials," Kuwaiti newspaper al-Anbaa quoted Bilal as saying on Sunday, the Syrian-Arab News Agency (SANA) reported.
Expressing astonishment over the misrepresentation of al-Assad's statements by some mass media, politicians and senior officials in Turkey, Bilal stressed that "Syria sees the political solution to any problem and any dispute as the best way." While in Turkey, al-Assad denied Syria was forced to expel Abdullah Öcalan, the now-jailed leader of the PKK, back in 1998 because of threats of military action by Turkey, saying Syria has never been a base for the PKK.
In 1998, Turkey threatened Syria with military action over Damascus' alleged support for the PKK and the safe haven Öcalan enjoyed in the neighboring country. Tensions ended the same year when Damascus forced Öcalan out, paving the way for a significant improvement in bilateral ties. Öcalan was subsequently captured in Kenya in 1999 and jailed for life. Al-Assad, speaking to a group of journalists in İstanbul on Thursday, admitted that Öcalan had been in Syria but added that there are serious misunderstandings in Turkey concerning Syria's role at the time. "The crisis was not resolved due to threats of military action; the basic proof for this is that there was no troop deployment on the Syrian side of the border despite the tension," he said. "We eventually saw this: Is this issue worth losing the Turkish people over? And the answer was no. What was important was that the Turkish and Syrian peoples be together."
Last month, Iran's military confirmed that Tehran has been shelling militant bases in northern Iraq to prevent separatists from creeping over the border into Iran and carrying out attacks. Hosseini said Iran has no plan to mediate an end to the dispute between Iraq and Turkey, but added that "the Islamic republic, however, welcomes any proposal that helps the return of peace and tranquility in that area." PKK's Iranian offshoot, the Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK), has been behind a string of deadly attacks on security forces in northwestern Iran in recent months. Iran has robust relations with Turkey but has also built an increasingly strong relationship with the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad after the fall of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Ankara Today's Zaman with wires