13 June 2012 / ALİ HALİT ASLAN , WASHINGTON – Zaman – US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has pledged continuing US support to Turkey in its counterterrorism efforts, offering to help meet the necessary military capability in the fight against the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) taking hold in southeastern Turkey. Panetta spoke on Monday during the 31st annual American-Turkish Council meeting in Washington, attended by senior Turkish and American officials, among them Minister of Defense İsmet Yılmaz, Foreign Ministry Deputy Undersecretary Halit Çevik, US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Philip Gordon, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs (ISA) Joseph McMillan and US Ambassador to Turkey Francis Ricciardone.
Panetta also stated that the alliance between Turkey and the US has reached a peak in importance not only for the security of both nations but globally, touching on the strong ties established between the two countries and cooperation within the scope of NATO’s Afghanistan mission.
The top US defense official maintained that as Turkey joins the struggle to oust al-Qaeda and associates from Afghanistan, the US would also continue to show strong solidarity with Turkey in order to confront PKK terrorism. Panetta also stated that the PKK problem will not be solved by mere military activity, claiming that continuing political dialogue is also essential to resolution. He expressed gratitude for Turkey’s decisiveness concerning security-building efforts in Afghanistan, pointing out that the country does not hesitate to continue its vital role, even after losing 12 soldiers during a helicopter accident in March.
The PKK issue continues to occupy the Turkish agenda, following an increase in attacks by the terrorist group in southeastern Turkey this spring. On Monday Turkish security forces killed three PKK terrorists, including two women, in an armed fight in an urban area of the Çukurca district of eastern Hakkari province.
Meanwhile, McMillan commented on recent difficulties surrounding the sale of MQ-9 Reapers — a larger and more modern version of the Predator — to Turkey, an act that would potentially confer a significant advantage on the military in its anti-PKK efforts. Stating that the decision-making process for drone sales is complicated and highly dependent on the position of the US Congress and administration, McMillan anticipated rapid progress on a clear decision following the US election period in November.
Turkey seeks to buy armed drones from the US, a request that has become controversial with some members of the US Congress refusing to agree to the sale, possibly due to Ankara’s deteriorating relations with Israel, a close US ally. The US administration is reportedly willing to sell the drones to Turkey and is attempting to persuade Congress not to block the sale. President Abdullah Gül and his US counterpart Barack Obama failed to make any progress during recent talks on the sale of drones, and Obama cited Congress as the biggest hurdle to his administration’s determination to make the sale.
US ambassador hopeful on Turkish constitutional process
Ricciardone, painting a bright picture of the future both for Turkey and Turkey-US relations during the conference, noted that he is optimistic about Turkey’s chances of improving its constitution in the future. Defining Turkey’s constitutional process as a new page and historical turning point for the country, Ricciardone anticipated that Turkey will participate with a more democratic constitution in the 32nd session of the conference next year.
Ricciardone claimed that Turkey and the US need to enhance trade and economic ties in the future, which would reflect a strategic alliance between the countries in terms of politics and security.
Turkey says all options are on table
Yılmaz, speaking during the same conference, drew attention to the ongoing security situation in Syria as having potential implications for Turkish security, and claimed that Turkey is ready to take all necessary measures if the threat becomes real danger.
Panetta, agreeing with Yılmaz, expressed US concerns over destabilized Syria and the brutal acts of the Assad regime. He indicated ongoing US cooperation with Turkey and the international community to exert more pressure in order to end the suffering of the Syrian people and establish democracy. He also expressed support for Turkey’s leadership role and the example of democracy it provides to many nations in the Middle East and North African region, currently in transitional phases.