Turkey hosted Iraqi Kurdish leader Nechirvan Barzani on Tuesday, a visit that came ahead of a planned grand Kurdish conference in Arbil next month that is expected to bring together major Kurdish political groups in the Middle East Today`s Zaman reported.
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, evaluating the visit of Barzani, the prime minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), underlined the necessity of frequent meetings to discuss the recent developments in Syria and Iraq. He was due to meet the Iraqi Kurdish leader late Tuesday.
Barzani's visit came soon after Ankara last weekend hosted Saleh Muslim, the leader of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria, with links to the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), who was in Ankara upon an invitation from the Turkish side. Turkey has been wary of the developments in northern Syria and the PYD currently has control of a large portion of the northern territory bordering Turkey. The party recently expressed its intentions to establish an autonomous region in the mostly Kurdish northern Syria.
Commenting on Muslim's visit, Davutoglu told reporters on Tuesday that the visit was not directly related with the developments in Ras al-Ain, a territory in northern Syria that was captured by the PYD as a result of fierce fighting with the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front, but that it was part of a planned visit. The Turkish foreign minister said that Turkey asked the PYD not to act in cooperation with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria and not to engage in any unilateral acts in the country's north until an elected parliament is formed. Another demand by Ankara was to stay away from any activity that would violate Turkey's security.
Davutoglu, however, said he acknowledged Syrian Kurds' need to establish a "civilian administration" in the territories where they are active, just as other opposition groups have. He warned that such provisional precautions were possible provided that the administration does not gain a "permanent status."
According to analysts, the recent visits by Syrian Kurdish and Iraqi Kurdish figures might indicate an expectation from Ankara that the long-expected Kurdish conference -- which will bring together representative of Kurds in Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria -- will not pose a threat to Turkey's interests.
Beril Dedeoglu, an academic at the International Relations Department at Galatasaray University, told Today's Zaman that Ankara's recent talks with Syrian Kurds as well as Kurds in other countries of the region is an initiative to prevent a potential alliance that could come out of the Kurdish congress that would be harmful to Turkey.
Turkey also wants to insure that the recent tension between the PYD and the Turkish army does not turn into clashes, Dedeoglu said. "I think Syrian Kurds also have expectations from Turkey at this point," the professor added.
He said Turkey's stepped-up diplomacy with the Syrian and Iraqi Kurds is particularly significant at a time when Turkey is engaged in a settlement process with the PKK to solve its decades-old terrorism problem. "I think this is a very smart move," Dedeoglu said.
In a separate statement on Tuesday, Davutoglu said the two were also scheduled to discuss economic relations between the KRG and Turkey in a meeting late Tuesday. Barzani is due to be received by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday for further talks.
Before having talks with figures from the government, Barzani met on Monday with representatives from the main opposition party, the Republican People's Party (CHP). Speaking at a press conference in Turkish Parliament, CHP Deputy Chairman Faruk Logoglu said the Iraqi Kurdish leader gave a reassuring message during talks, assuring that the Kurdish congress is not a new step towards creating a united Kurdistan. Logoglu said the aim of Barzani's visit was to brief Turkish officials about the goals of the conference.
Associate Professor Mehmet Akif Okur, a foreign policy expert from the Ankara Strategy Institute, said in remarks to Today's Zaman that Barzani's visit might be related to a couple of issues on the table such as the PKK problem, the developments in Iraq that are affiliated with the KRG, as well as tension in northern Syria.
Okur said the KRG's tense relations with Iran and the central government in Iraq have pushed the Kurdish entity to form good ties with Turkey. He added, however, that the equation which once pushed the KRG-Turkey toward each other has now changed as the Kurdish region has taken steps to make its relations with the government in Baghdad flourish. Okur recalled the recent visits by Iranian top officials to the Kurdish entity as a sign of breaking ice. These developments, according to Okur, might have urged Turkey to step up its talks with the Iraqi Kurdish region.
Another reason for the increased talks with Kurds is the upcoming Kurdish congress in Arbil, where the Kurdish groups might make a call to create a united Kurdistan, Okur said.
An oil pipeline which is planned to carry crude oil from the Iraqi Kurdistan region to Turkey might be another issue on the table. Okur says that the KRG, which has been eager to start exporting its crude oil via Turkey, is more reluctant to do so now than when compared with the past.
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