Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani's made his first visit to Ankara since the U.S. invasion in 2003 while Turkey and Iraq already enjoy burgeoning trade and security cooperation.
Barzani, who arrived in Ankara on Wednesday, is expected to discuss cooperation with Turkey in its fight against PKK militants who attack Turkish forces from bases in northern Iraq.
Henri Barkey of the Carnegie Institute for International Peace said Barzani's landmark visit, unimaginable only a few years ago, showed how dramatically Turkish policy towards Iraqi Kurds and Turkish strategy on Iraq had changed.
"Mutual trust between Kurdistan and Turkey is key to stability in our region. One reason Kurds have drawn closer to Turkey is the U.S. decision to withdraw from Iraq," said Sahin Alpay, a professor at Bahcesehir University in Istanbul.
Barzani's visit coincides with a jump in violence by the PKK, and a Turkish foreign ministry official said Turkey expects him to "send a strong message against terrorism."
"It's time for solidarity against terrorism. Barzani shares our position. He is coming within this framework," Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters.
The two sides will discuss security matters, trade and energy links and the general election, said Safeen Dizayee, a minister in the Kurdistan Regional Government.
Iraqi Kurdistan has awarded Turkish companies lucrative construction and energy contracts, and trade reached $9 billion last year, according to the Turkish Foreign Ministry.
Istanbul-based conglomerates Cukurova and Dogan Holding are developing oil in the region, which has reserves of up to 40 billion barrels. Kurdistan wants to build a $1 billion oil pipeline to Ceyhan on Turkey's Mediterranean coast.
"Iraqi Kurds have put to rest Turkey's concerns about whether Iraqi unity will be protected," said Dogu Ergil, political science professor at Ankara University. "Of all their neighbours, Kurds trust and need Turkey the most in the region, and trade ties have solidifed that."
Resolving disputes with neighbours is a cornerstone of Ankara's foreign policy as it seeks to become a regional power.
Erdogan has expanded Kurdish political and cultural rights in an effort to end the 25-year conflict with the PKK.
Turkey, the United States and the European Union all label the PKK a terrorist organisation.
ReutersLast Mod: 02 Haziran 2010, 20:59