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U.S. Envoy Says He Will Not Meet with Kurdish Terrorist Group

Joseph Ralston says he wants to make Americans more aware of PKK problem

Washington -- The U.S. special envoy for countering the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) says he will not meet with the terrorist organization, active in Turkey and Iraq, and that he wants to make Americans more aware of the PKK's deadly acts.

"We don't meet with terrorists. We don't negotiate with terrorists. We don't cooperate with terrorists," retired Air Force General Joseph W. Ralston told reporters September 27 in Washington. "I am not going to meet with the PKK."

An estimated 30,000 people in Turkey have been killed in PKK-related violence over the past 22 years, including 500 deaths since the beginning of 2006, according to the U.S. State Department.

The PKK's goal is to establish an independent Kurdish state in traditional Kurdish lands, which include mountainous regions in southeast Turkey and northern Iraq, as well as parts of Iran and Syria. Approximately 4,000 to 5,000 people, primarily Turkish Kurds, are believed to belong to the PKK, which formally changed its name to Kongra-Gel in 2003. A majority of its members - between 3,000 and 3,500 -- are operating out of the Kurdish region of northern Iraq, according to the State Department's 2005 Country Reports on Terrorism. (See related article.)

In recent months, the United States increasingly has urged Turkey's government not to attack PKK targets in northern Iraq for fear of further destabilizing the political situation there. The State Department on August 28 announced that President Bush had appointed Ralston as the special U.S. envoy for countering the PKK. Before retiring from the U.S. Air Force, Ralston served as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and as NATO's supreme allied commander in Europe. (See related article.)

In his news conference, Ralston said there has been confusion in Turkish news reports about his role as U.S. envoy. He stressed that he is not a "coordinator" and will not act as an intermediary between the PKK and the Turkish government. Instead, Ralston said, he is meeting with top-level officials in Turkey and Iraq to help develop a strategy for dealing with the terrorist group.

Following a recent trip to the region, Ralston said he prepared a written report for the U.S. government and met September 26 with the National Security Council. On October 2, Turkey's prime minster, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is scheduled to meet President Bush at the White House, where they will discuss a range of issues, likely including the PKK. (See related article.)

Ralston said that, while in Iraq, he met with senior Iraqi government officials "to impress upon them the unacceptability of Iraqi territory being used as a safe haven for the PKK." He said he also is working closely with his counterpart in the Turkish government, General Edip Baser, and urged the Iraqis to create a similar counter-terrorism envoy.

The PKK presence in Kurdish-dominated northern Iraq "works ... against the best interest of Iraq," Ralston said. "Turkey is the best possible friend that Iraq could have in that neighborhood. ... And the economic interests between Iraq and Turkey are critical for both Iraq and Turkey."

To promote a higher standard of living for both countries, Ralston said, "we need to stop the violence. We need to stop the terrorism."

Ralston said that, following his visit to the region, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki stated the PKK could not use Iraqi territory as a safe haven, demonstrating "an appreciation ... in the government of Iraq that this is a serious problem and that they need to work on it." However, Ralston added, "Iraq has a lot of problems, you know. And so ... it's important that we keep people focused on this problem."

Responding to media reports about the Iraqi government raising the idea of possible amnesty for some terrorist or militant groups, Ralston said he can "imagine the reaction in Turkey if you say 'amnesty' for people who have gone out and committed these horrendous acts of violence against innocent civilians."

Ralston also said that part of his job is to help make Americans more aware of "the significance of the PKK problem" for the Turkish people.

"If you go out and stop somebody on the street out here [in the United States] and say, 'What do you know about the PKK in Turkey?'" Ralston said, "you're going to get the thousand-mile stare. They don't know what you're talking about." Yet the PKK is "a very intense, important, crucial issue for every Turkish citizen."

Ralson said one of his goals is to "try to help raise that awareness level."

A transcript of the briefing is available on the State Department's Web site.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:


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