Syrian foreign minister in Turkey to discuss Iraq

Posted in Iraq | 09-Nov-04 | Source: The Daily Star (Lebanon Edition)

Syrian foreign minister in Turkey to discuss Iraq.

Talks to assess regional issues

Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa arrived in Ankara on Monday for a two-day visit to discuss the situation in neighboring Iraq, where both Turkey and Syria oppose the political aspirations of Iraqi Kurds, and the Palestinian question.

Syria and Turkey have sizable Kurdish populations and fear that Kurdish independence could incite their own Kurds to push for autonomy. Ankara has battled Kurdish rebels in southeastern Turkey since 1984.

Sharaa's visit comes ahead of a high-level conference in Egypt of Iraq's neighbors later this month aimed at promoting stability in Iraq and supporting upcoming elections there.

Sharaa told reporters on arrival that he had brought a message from Syrian President Bashar Assad concerning "the developments in the region" and that his visit would serve as an "assessment of the process the region is undergoing," according to the Anatolia news agency.

Shara was scheduled to meet Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul late Monday and his Turkish counterpart, Ahmet Necdet Sezer, on Tuesday before leaving.

Asked to comment on President George W. Bush's victory in last week's U.S. elections, Anatolia quoted Sharaa as saying: "There is worldwide optimism that the results of the elections will be in the interests of the region. We have to leave wars behind."

Turkey, a close ally of the United States and a NATO member, has pushed for better relations with its southern neighbor Syria since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, despite warnings from Washington to limit its cooperation with Damascus.

Turkey and Syria have significantly improved ties since 1998 when they nearly went to war over Ankara's accusations that Damascus was backing Kurdish rebels fighting the Turkish government.

Tensions eased in October of that year when Syria expelled Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan from a safe haven on its territory and, under a security deal pledged with Turkey, pledged to stop supporting his separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party, better known as the PKK.