In the March 23 Washington Post, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan suggests that Secretary of State Colin Powell sold out the Kurds for Turkish overflight rights. Erdogan made his remarks in an interview with Lally Weymouth on March 20, one day before the Turks stopped dragging their feet and allowed the overflights to take place. When Powell asked for the overflights, Erdogan says, "We said we would like to see Turkish troops in northern Iraq and they approved that." Weymouth asks: "Are you sure? Reportedly, the U.S. did not approve." Erdogan answers: "Our foreign minister made this agreement during that discussion with Colin Powell."
Earlier, Chatterbox had speculated that Powell sold out the Kurds on Friday, in a final desperate bid to get Turkey to OK the overflights. Erdogan suggests that Powell sold out the Kurds at least one day before.
Powell and the State Department have yet to be heard from on whether Erdogan's claim is true. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, asked about it today on NBC's Meet the Press, gave a rambling, hard-to-follow response:
I don't know precisely what [Erdogan] said in the context of who he was talking to or what he said. The Turkish forces have, over the years, moved in and out of northern Iraq in relatively small numbers. They have expressed a concern about their border, and the risk of refugees, although I can say there was another humanitarian crisis problem that could have occurred at the moment. It looks like it's not occurring. There are not large numbers of refugees fleeing into Jordan or into Turkey. We have told the Turkish government that we want to stay in very close military-to-military contact with them. We are in very close military-to-military contact with the Kurds. And we do not feel it's appropriate or necessary for them to bring large numbers of forces into northern Iraq, and, to my knowledge, they're not.
President Bush, asked today about the Turkish troops (though not about Erdogan's claim that Powell approved them), replied that the Turks do not have U.S. approval, but didn't rule out giving them approval in the future:
We have got more troops up north, and we're making it very clear to the Turks that we expect them not to come into Northern Iraq. We're in constant touch with the Turkish military, as well as Turkish politicians. They know our policy, and it's a firm policy. And we've made it very clear to them we expect them not to go into Northern Iraq, as well as—and they know we're working with the Kurds to make sure there's not an incident that would cause there to be an excuse to go into Northern Iraq.
Regardless of what Powell told Erdogan, the results do not seem to be as dire as they first appeared. The United States and Turkey have continued to confer on the matter in Ankara, and the Kurdistan Observer reports that Turks finally bowed to U.S. pressure and agreed not to send more troops south into Iraqi Kurdistan. (Nobody else has this, so it may be an exaggeration, or completely untrue.) Germany reportedly has told Turkey that if it invades Iraqi Kurdistan, Turkey can forget about German crews riding on NATO-supplied AWACS surveillance planes. Meanwhile, the leaders of Kurdistan's two main factions are reported by KurdishMedia.com to have agreed to a "limited" Turkish troop presence, apparently restricted to those who have already arrived. Perhaps they're comforted by news that a large U.S. contingent is on its way.