BEIRUT

Middle East

Israel, Turkey back off pro-Kurd independence stances

Members of the Kurdish peshmerga stand guard at a checkpoint at Tuz Khurmato village in Salahuddin Province June 26, 2014. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah

ANKARA/OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: Officials in Israel and Turkey Monday backed away from previous enthusiasm over the prospect of an independent Kurdish state as a jihadist-led insurgency and political turbulence roil Iraq.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman described Iraqi Kurdish independence as a fait accompli but said his country was taking no action to help the Kurds achieve formal statehood.

The remarks appeared aimed at heading off potential confrontation with Washington, which wants to keep Iraq united, after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Sunday called for support for the emergence of a Kurdish state.

Netanyahu’s remarks drew no response from the autonomous Kurdish government in northern Iraq, which has seized on the country’s sectarian chaos to expand into oil-rich new territory but remains wary of declaring full independence.

“Iraq’s future depends on the people who live there and Israel has no interest in getting involved in order to advance this-or-that solution, nor to give advice,” Lieberman said in Berlin, according to his spokesman.

Netanyahu said Sunday that he backed supporting “the Kurdish aspiration for independence,” describing the Kurds as “a fighting people that has proved its political commitment, political moderation and deserves political independence.”

Asked Monday if Israel was lobbying abroad for a Kurdish state, or if Israel had received word from the Kurds that they were planning to declare independence, an Israeli official close to Netanyahu told Reuters: “I don’t want to go beyond what the prime minister said.”

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Israel had no immediate comment on Netanyahu’s remarks.

The pro-Israel U.S. lobby AIPAC was not helping to promote prospective Kurdish statehood to the Obama administration, a Washington source said.

In what signaled a deepening of ties, Israel on June 20 took its first delivery of disputed oil from Iraqi Kurdistan’s new pipeline, which runs through Turkey. The United States disapproves of such go-it-alone Kurdish exports.

Separately, Turkish officials said Ankara opposes independence for a Kurdish state in northern Iraq and wants a unity government in Baghdad to counter the threat by Islamist Sunni rebels.

Turkey has good relations with the semiautonomous Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq but would not support moves to push for independence from Baghdad, a Turkish government official said.

“Turkey’s position is for the territorial integrity and political unity of Iraq, that’s it,” the official said anonymously, in order to speak more freely.

“[We] are not in favor of any independence, that would be detrimental to that unity. Nothing like that could be discussed,” he stated.

Comments in the Financial Times Saturday by Huseyin Celik, a spokesman for Turkey’s ruling AK Party, have been interpreted as suggesting Ankara would tolerate an independent Kurdish state if Iraq were to fall apart.

However another Turkish official at the premier’s office last week appeared to pour cold water on the idea, saying that “the integrity of Iraq is very important to Turkey.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 01, 2014, on page 8.

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