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Turkey Backs Iraq Reconciliation Plan

   
Turkey, a strategic U.S. ally and Iraq's most influential neighbor, called on Iraqis Monday to support a reconciliation plan to end escalating violence in their country. The call came on the first official visit by Iraq's new foreign minister to Turkey.

Speaking at a joint news conference with his Iraqi counterpart, Hoshyar Zebari, Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said he hoped that a new plan for reconciliation would prove successful in restoring security and national consensus in Iraq.

The 24-point proposal, floated by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, would give amnesty to mainly Sunni Arab insurgents, who renounce violence in favor of politics.

Turkey's support is seen as crucial. It was Foreign Minister Gul's intervention that helped persuade Iraq's minority Sunni leaders to take part in Iraq's first democratic polls in January. Turkey has been training Iraqi diplomats, security officials and other personnel, and it is the main supplier of non-lethal supplies to the U.S. Army in Iraq.

The importance attached by Turkey to Iraq was in evidence Monday, when the country's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, made time to meet with Zebari. During the talks, Erdogan reportedly stressed Turkey's concerns about the possible dismemberment of Iraq, should the reconciliation process fail.

Ankara's greatest fear is the establishment of an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq that would become a magnet for Turkey's large and restive Kurdish minority.

Zebari assured Erdogan that his government was willing to revive three-way talks, which would include the United States, to discuss measure to curb Turkish Kurd rebels, based in northern Iraq. The group known as the PKK ended a five-year long truce in 2004, and has revived attacks against Turkish security forces in the country's predominantly Kurdish southeast region.

The United States' failure to take military action against the rebels, who are on the State Department's list of terrorist groups, has contributed to rising anti-American sentiment in Turkey. The PKK issue is set to figure prominently on Gul's agenda when he travels to Washington later this month for talks with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.