Turkey and Ocalan discuss steps to end Kurdish conflict

Updated 09 January 2013

Turkey and Ocalan discuss steps to end Kurdish conflict

ANKARA: Turkey's pro-Kurd party yesterday hailed government-led talks with jailed Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan as a "right step" but called for a halt to detentions and military operations against rebels before full-fledged negotiations can begin.
"It is a right step. It is a rational and reasonable step that was taken in such a critical process," Selahattin Demirtas, co-chairman of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), told his party lawmakers in Parliament.
"But we cannot talk of a full-blown negotiation process at this stage; we are not there yet," Demirtas said.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan revealed late last month that Turkey's intelligence services had talks with Ocalan, which an aide said concerned disarming the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).
The aide, Yalcin Akdogan, said that Ocalan remains "the main actor" in efforts to resolve the three-decade old Kurdish conflict, which has claimed some 45,000 lives.
Demirtas demanded the release of Ocalan, the imprisoned PKK leader, or the easing of his detention conditions. "But if military operations and detention (of Kurdish activists) continue ... there is no point in pursuing this process," Demirtas said, adding that all parties to the conflict be included, including the political wing of the PKK.
Demirtas's remarks came after two prominent Kurdish politicians visited Ocalan in prison on the island of Imrali south of Istanbul, the first such visit since his incarceration in 1999. Details of the closed-door meeting were not made public, but the government's green light for the visit was perceived as a sign that negotiations were in motion to end the conflict.
After more than a decade behind bars, Ocalan is still a respected figure for a majority of Turkey's Kurds, although his influence among PKK hawks is believed to have diminished.
The PKK, listed as a terrorist group by Ankara, the United States and the European Union, took up arms in the Kurdish-majority southeast in 1984 in a quest for autonomy there.
Ankara initiated clandestine peace talks with prominent rebel figures in 2009 but they failed.

12 Kurdish rebels ‘killed’
Meanwhile, Turkey's state television reported yesterday that Turkish troops have battled Kurdish rebels in southeast Turkey, in fighting that left 12 rebels and a soldier dead despite peace talks aimed at ending the 28-year-old conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people.
A group of rebels, infiltrating from northern Iraq, attacked a military post near the border with long-range weapons late Monday, killing one soldier and wounding two others, TRT television reported. The military says it fired back on the rebels killing at least 12.
Last month, government officials said Turkey's intelligence agency was holding talks with the rebels' imprisoned leader, Abdullah Ocalan, with the goal of pressing the group to disarm. Ocalan's Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, which took up arms in 1984, is fighting for self-rule for Kurds in southeast Turkey. The group often launches attacks from bases in neighboring northern Iraq.
Officials have given few details about the talks, but the government said Turkey had no intention of halting its fight against the PKK until the rebels were "no longer in a position to attack," even as the dialogue continued. Turkish officials have said that the group has in the past used lulls in fighting to recoup.
The fighting in Hakkari province comes days after Yalcin Akdogan, chief adviser to the Turkish prime minister, warned that factions within the PKK opposed to any negotiated settlement, could attempt to "sabotage" the talks by launching sensational attacks.
Turkey has admitted holding secret discussions with Ocalan and other PKK members before, although officials said the talks were abandoned when rebels killed 13 soldiers in southeast Turkey in 2011.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has ruled out any amnesty for PKK fighters or the possibility of a house arrest for Ocalan, who has been serving a life sentence on a prison island off Istanbul since 1999.
The latest peace effort comes after hundreds of Kurdish prisoners linked to the PKK heeded a call from Ocalan in November and abandoned a hunger strike pressing for greater Kurdish rights and improved prison conditions for the rebel leader. The incident demonstrated Ocalan still holds sway over the rebels even after 13 years of being in prison.
The negotiations also coincide with efforts by parties in Parliament to draft a new constitution for Turkey, which the government says would safeguard the rights of minority Kurds, who make up some 20 percent of the country's 75 million population.

Iran faces ‘strongest sanctions in history’

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Updated 22 May 2018

Iran faces ‘strongest sanctions in history’

  • US Secretary of State laid out Trump administration’s strategy for constraining Iran’s nuclear program
  • US threatens "strongest sanctions in history" if Iranian government does not change course

WASHINGTON: The US told Iran on Monday to drop its nuclear ambitions and pull out of the Syrian civil war in a list of demands that marked a new hard-line against Tehran and prompted an Iranian official to warn that Washington seeks regime change.

Weeks after US President Donald Trump pulled out of an international nuclear deal with Iran, his administration threatened to impose “the strongest sanctions in history,” setting Washington and Tehran on a deeper course of confrontation.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo demanded sweeping changes that would force Iran effectively to reverse years of its foreign policies.

“The sting of sanctions will only grow more painful if the regime does not change course from the unacceptable and unproductive path it has chosen for itself and the people of Iran,” Pompeo said in his first major speech since becoming secretary of state.

“These will be the strongest sanctions in history by the time we are done,” he added.

Pompeo took aim at Iran’s policy of expanding its influence in the Middle East through support for proxy armed groups in countries such as Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.

He warned that the US would “crush” Iranian operatives and allies abroad and told Tehran to pull out forces under its command from the Syrian civil war where they back President Bashar Assad.

Iran is unlikely to accede to the US demands. Tension between the two countries has grown notably since Trump this month withdrew from the 2015 nuclear agreement aimed at preventing Tehran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

Pompeo warned that if Iran fully resumed its nuclear program Washington would be ready to respond and said the administration would hold companies doing prohibited business in Iran to account.

“Our demands on Iran are not unreasonable: Give up your program,” Pompeo said, “Should they choose to go back, should they begin to enrich, we are fully prepared to respond to that as well,” he said, declining to elaborate.

Pompeo said if Iran made major changes, the US was prepared to ease sanctions, re-establish full diplomatic and commercial relations and support the country’s re-integration into the international economic system.

The speech did not explicitly call for regime change but Pompeo repeatedly urged the Iranian people not to put up with their leaders, specifically naming President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

“At the end of the day the Iranian people will get to make a choice about their leadership. If they make the decision quickly, that would be wonderful, if they choose not to do so we will stay hard at this until we achieve the outcomes I set forward,” said Pompeo.