President Bush praised Turkey yesterday as a close, democratic ally in the Middle East but stopped short of meeting Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's plea for greater U.S. assistance to defeat a Turkish terrorist group operating out of northern Iraq.
Erdogan, whose country is considered the United States' closest Muslim ally, came to Washington seeking more help from the Bush administration in cracking down on a rebel group -- called the Kurdistan Workers' Party -- that has killed hundreds of Turkish troops in recent attacks. After meeting with Bush, Erdogan told reporters the president expressed concern about the terrorist groups but promised little in terms of new assistance to cut off the group's logistics and financing.
"We are exchanging information," Erdogan said. "However, we don't think it is sufficient. We want [the cooperation] to be taken further." He said Bush's priority is getting the new Iraqi government in place before shifting attention to other problems.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Bush is committed to defeating the Turkish rebel group and other terrorist organizations operating in Iraq. "There are a number of challenges we continue to face in Iraq, and the president talked about that," he told reporters. "This is one area where we will continue working with Turkey and the transitional government in Iraq to address."
At a short, joint appearance after their meeting, Bush did not mention the Turkish terrorist threat, instead paying tribute to Turkey's democracy and role in finding peace in the broader Middle East. "We've had an extensive visit about a lot of issues," Bush said. "And the reason why is because Turkey and the United States has an important strategic relationship." Bush did not allow for any questions from the media.
More Turkish troops have been killed by the rebel group in recent months than U.S. troops have been killed in Iraq. The Kurdish Workers' Party uses many of the same techniques the insurgents battling U.S troops and Iraqis employ, including explosive devices detonated by remote control.
The U.S.-Turkey relationship was strained over the Iraq war, especially the 2003 decision by the Turkish Parliament to deny U.S. troops the ability to attack Iraq from its border. Pentagon officials still complain that Turkey's decision hampered the U.S. plan to quickly topple Saddam Hussein and capture or kill members of his Baathist Party.
"We will continue to have the same kind of solidarity we've had in Turkish-U.S. relations in the past and the future, as well," Erdogan said after he left the White House. "Our strategic relationship will move and take place in the future as it has been done in the past."
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), speaking on the floor, said Erdogan should "move beyond recent tensions" with the United States and stamp out anti-American passions in his country. "The first step is for Prime Minister Erdogan to speak clearly in defense of our partnership and to dispel a wave of anti-Americanism that runs counter to the last five decades of cooperation," Frist said.
In his brief remarks, Bush provided little more than an economic nod. "And, finally, we discussed the domestic issues. We discussed our economies. And the prime minister reminded me that the -- in his judgment, Turkey is a good place for U.S. investment."