BBC Monitoring Europe – Political / Supplied by BBC Worldwide Monitoring

November 17, 2012 Saturday – Turkey: Iraqi president interviewed on Kurdish rebels . Text of report by Turkish newspaper Milliyet website on 16 November

Iraqi President and PUK [Patriotic Union of Kurdistan] leader [Jalal] Talabani related that Prime Minister [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan, to whom he has last year conveyed the message that the PKK [Kurdistan People’s Congress, KGK] was prepared to lay down arms, did not accept the demand for a “general amnesty.”

Included among the five points of Talabani’s road map for a process of the PKK’s coming down out of the mountains are the improvement of [imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah] Ocalan’s prison conditions and a true cease-fire.

I had conducted my first interview with Mam Jalal [Kurdish for “Uncle Jalal”, as Talabani is affectionately known among Kurds] in 1992, in a small town in Iraqi Kurdistan named Shaqlawa. We spoke a bit of that history, and of from where to where things have come in the past 20 years. Naturally, he asked about [Turkish journalist] Cengiz Candar,
and learned of his latest book [Mezopotamya Ekpresi -“Mesopotamia Express”] from me.
The discussion, which we held in English and a major portion of which
was one-on-one, lasted almost an hour and a half.

In summary, he said the following:

“Prime Minister Al-Maliki came to Al-Sulaymaniyah to discuss what we were going to do with Turkey… I told him to set aside for the time being his problems with Prime Minister Erdogan, which have a personal nature. I said that Iraq’s interests absolutely lie in good relations with Turkey. Al-Maliki said ‘fine,’ and that he was prepared for this… Later it was said that a minister -it may have been the Minister of Energy -was going to come from Ankara, but this visit did not materialize. In the meantime, a delegation from Al-Maliki’s Dawa Party was going to go to the AKP [Justice and Development Party] congress. But when it was learned that [fugitive Iraqi Vice President] Tariq al-Hashimi was going to deliver a speech there, this was evidently cancelled…”

When I asked “what should be done?”, the Iraqi President continued as follows:
“Contact between Ankara and Baghdad is important. To reduce the tension, and then to re-establish dialogue… A delegation could come from Ankara to Baghdad, a minis ter could come. Various developments involving Turkish companies… My worry is for the Turkish-Iraqi relationship to be drawn onto the axis of a Sunni-Shi’i conflict…
There are those who would like to do this. Turkey, as a state, should not be pulled onto a ‘Sunni’ axis…”

Balance in the Region
After this, Talabani brought the conversation around to the issue of balance:

“Let us be realistic. We can change neither our history nor our geography. Nuri al-Maliki is the Prime Minister of Iraq; it is he who governs the country. This cannot be changed. In this situation, maintaining ‘balance’ falls upon us, upon all of us. Contact between
Ankara and Baghdad should begin,contacts that would re-open the channels of dialogue…”

In the meantime, according to what I learned from some reliable sources in Al-Sulaymaniyah, Prime Minister Erdogan has reportedly asked Iran to contribute to the improvement of ties between Ankara and Baghdad, and has received a positive response…

What appears is that:
The normalization of the relationship between Erdogan and Al-Maliki could take some time. In contrast, the normalization of the Turkish-Iraqi relationship might not take too long. Jalal Talabani said he shared this impression.

Baghdad Visit by PKK
A note:
According to what I learned from reliable sources in Arbil and Al-Sulaymaniyah, two representatives from the PKK recently visited Baghdad. The purpose was reportedly to meet with Prime Minister Al-Maliki.

This evidently did not occur. But one minister reportedly did receive the PKK members…

According to what I learned, Prime Minister Al-Maliki was warned in Baghdad that “if you want to blow up the Turkish-Iraqi relationship entirely, you can meet with PKK members…”

Who warned him?
I do not know.
President Talabani stated that good relations between Iraq and Turkey would be in the interests of both countries.

PKK Dialogue…
The longest portion of my conversation with Iraqi President Talabani dealt with Tayyip Erdogan and the Kurdish and PKK issues. In our discussion, of which a portion took place with the condition of not being written about, Talabani at one point revealed the following:

“I met with Tayyip Erdogan in September of last year at the United Nations General Assembly.

 I told him:

“‘The PKK came to me. They said they were prepared to lay down arms. (In saying this, he leaned towards me, and said “I am talking about laying down arms, and not a ‘cease-fire.'”) There were two conditions for this. One was a general amnesty, while the other was for the definition of citizenship in the constitution to be changed and the word ‘Turkish’ removed….

“Erdogan said that a general amnesty was not easy, and that the public was not ready for this. At one point, he mentioned a certain point. He stated that he is not a nationalist, but a Muslim, and said ‘everyone is my brother.’

“I said that then he might take the Prophet Muhammad as a model. I related to him how the Prophet Muhammad left everyone free when he conquered Mecca…

“I said that if there was not going to be a general amnesty, but if the people in the mountains were going to come down, then ‘where will they come down to? To prison?’ and said that this was not realistic.”

“Only Ocalan Can Do It”

Jalal Talabani made the same appeal to the PKK that Mas’ud Barzani had:

“The era of armed struggle is over, and it is now time to come down out of the mountains. People like Che [Guevara] and Ho Chi Minh have long since passed into history.”

After saying this, Talabani said something else:

“I say this to the PKK every time, but they have still not been convinced.”

Talabani, after declaring that the door to dialogue with the PKK needs to be opened once again, underscored the same thing that Mas’ud Barzani had told me in Arbil:

“Only on e man can open the door of dialogue, and that is Ocalan…
And only that man in prison, Abdullah Ocalan, can bring those in the mountains down from them…”

The Road Map…

Jalal Talabani outlined a road map, summarized as follows, for a process of the PKK’s coming down from the mountains:

(1) Improvement in Ocalan’s conditions of incarceration… (On this
issue, he speaks of improvement in the first phase, house arrest in
the second, and pardon in the third, and says thatthere will be a
transition through these phases over time in the course of the road

(2) A true cease-fire…

(3) The withdrawal of PKK militants outside the borders of TUrkey…

(4) A new definition of citizenship…

(5) A general amnesty…

This is the summary of Talabani’s road map.

“Necessary to Knock on the Door”

In the final portion of our conversation, the topic again came to the region, and to the relations between Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan.

“I do not want to beat around the bush. We have a decision of principle with Barzani. Whatever the best relationship with Turkey
would be, that is what we want to establish.”

At this point, without going into detail, he stated that some countries are not happy about this, but he did not want this to be
written openly, and he particularly wanted the name of the large country that he cited as an example of this to be held in confidence.

When I asked about stability in the region, the Iraqi President spoke, in summary, as follows:

“If we want peace and stability in the region, we have no choice but to knock on the doors of both Washington and Moscow. For instance, the
only country that can dissuade Israel in terms of Iran is America. We have to go to Moscow because Russia has good relations with Tehran,
with Baghdad, and with Damascus. Russia says: ‘We do not want to defend [Syrian President Bashar] Al-Asad, but we are also against
America’s having hegemony in every area.’ In the meantime, Moscow as well is worried about the radical Islamist movements in the region.”

These were the statements that Iraqi President and PUK leader Jalal Talabani made yesterday to Milliyet in Al-Sulaymaniyah.

Message to Erdogan on Kurdish Issue…

In our conversation, Iraqi President and PUK leader Jalal Talabani also conveyed the following message, via Milliyet, to Prime Minister
Recep Tayyip Erdogan:

“My brother Erdogan,

“Resolve the Kurdish question and bring peace to the mountains. It is now time to engage in politics not in the mountains, but rather under
the roofs of parliaments, elected with the votes of the people.

“My dear brother,

“A resolution of the Kurdish question, while bringing peace both to Turkey and to our region, will also bring you even more votes at the
ballot box.”

“Turkey Has Not Been Able to Read Syria Correctly”

Iraqi President Talabani spoke as follows, in broad outline, regarding Turkey’s policies with regard to Syria:

“Turkey has not been able to read Syria completely correctly. Initially, it thought everything would be very easy, and that Bashar
al-Asad would go very quickly, but afterwards it saw that it was not going to be able to be this way.”

“The Alawites do not want to give up rule. They are tightly clasped to the Ba’th.”

“The Christians are the same. They are afraid of the Muslim Brotherhood. There is a saying that is circulating in Syria: ‘The
Alawites to coffins, and the Christians to Lebanon…'”

“The Druze are split into two factions…”

“As for the Kurds of Syria… The Kurdish National Council has not yet taken its place alongside the Syrian opposition. As for the PYD
[Democratic Union Party], which is controlling certain locations in Syrian Kurdistan, it is afraid of Turkey.”

“The Sunni Arabs want Al-Asad to go, but the Sunni bourgeoisie in Damascus and Aleppo h ave not yet fully made up their minds.”

“At the moment, the Al-Asad regime is unable to control the country, but its departure does not appear easy.”

After stating these things, Talabani added the following:

“Our friends in Ankara have been unable to read this scene completely, and have been unable to see the whole of the picture.”

Source: Milliyet website, Istanbul, in Turkish 16 Nov 12