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Former envoy: U.S. driving Turkey, Iran together

General Joseph W. Ralston in 1999, now retired.
General Joseph W. Ralston in 1999, now retired. Handout / MCT

WASHINGTON — The retired general who served as President Bush's special envoy to deal with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) said the United States has failed to keep its promises to Turkey to confront the Kurdish terrorist group, and Turkey may feel that it has no choice but to attack the PKK's sanctuary in northern Iraq.

Retired Air Force Gen. Joseph Ralston, in a brief interview, declined to say why he stepped down several weeks ago. But published reports have said that he was frustrated by the Bush administration's failure to act against the PKK.

In his first extended comments since his departure, Ralston told McClatchy Newspapers that the United States is unwittingly "driving, strategically, the Turks and the Iranians together" because both nations share concerns about violent Kurdish separatist groups.

"The U.S. government should make good on the commitments they have made to the Turks," Ralston said.

Turkey is a NATO ally of the United States, while the United States and Iran are increasingly in confrontation across a range of issues.

The White House and the U.S. military have appeared leery about opening a new front in the war in Iraq — particularly in generally stable northern Iraq — by launching assaults against the PKK. Neither the U.S.-backed Iraqi government nor the semiautonomous Kurdish Regional Government has shown any inclination to go after the group.

The officer who commands U.S. forces in northern Iraq, Maj. Gen. Benjamin Nixon, last week said he planned to do "absolutely nothing" to curb PKK activities.

Ralston, a vice chairman of the Washington-based Cohen Group, a consulting firm, said the statement was "directly opposite" promises Bush has made to Turkey.

Asked whether the Turkish military would invade northern Iraq, which PKK fighters use to launch attacks into Turkey, Ralston said: "They're going to have to, in the absence of the U.S. doing anything."

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