Chairman says U.S.-Turkish relationship 'very strong'

Wrapping up his first visit to Turkey as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff here Sept. 15, 2008, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen said he and Turkish leaders reaffirmed "a very strong military-to-military relationship."

During the two-day visit, Mullen met with Turkish President Abdullah Gul, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Chief of the Turkish General Staff Gen. Ilker Basburg to discuss a broad range of military cooperation efforts and common concerns.

The pending October expiration of a one-year parliamentary authorization for Turkish military action against the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, was a key issue Mullen talked about with Turkish leaders. More than three dozen countries, including the United States and Turkey, list the PKK as a terrorist group. Mullen said the Turkish government will have to decide whether to renew the authorization, which the United States has supported.

"It's obviously up to the Turkish government to make decisions about how the government proceeds from a policy perspective," Mullen said. "I know the operations the United States has supported have been very effective over the past year."

Mullen said the United States also is committed to supporting intelligence operations with the Turks when requested.

Another issue raised was the activity of ships operating in the Black Sea during the recent tensions between Georgian and Russia. The 1936 Montreux Convention set rules for transit in the straits between the Black and Mediterranean seas. The chairman said the United States is committed to abiding by the convention, which requires ships passing through the straits meet specific weight requirements.

"There was a sense of urgency with the crisis and the availability of ships," Mullen said. He said the U.S. Navy frequently uses ships to deliver aid, such as when ships assisted following the tsunami that hit Indonesia in 2004. But, he said, the United States is not seeking to alter the terms of the convention.

The chairman told Turkish media the crisis in Georgia is continually being monitored.

"Should Georgia become a member of NATO, NATO is committed to collective defense of anybody in the pact," Mullen said. "All of us are concerned with what Russia did with the invasion."

During his visit, the admiral said, he was asked about cross-border incursions from Pakistan to Afghanistan by Taliban and al-Qaida operatives. Though he would not go into details of the operations, he did say the border between the countries is very dangerous.

"It's a safe haven," said Mullen. "We know that al-Qaida and Taliban terrorists are there and it needs to be addressed."

Additionally, Mullen said Turkey is helping out in Afghanistan and "we greatly appreciate that." He added Turkey will remain a key U.S. ally.

"Our relationship with Turkey is one we all cherish," Mullen said. "We share many common interests, and I'm confident we'll continue to do so in the future."

[Source: By Air Force Master Sgt. Adam M. Stump, Joint Chiefs of Staff public affairs, United States European Commandd, Ankara,Tur, 16Sep08]

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