US Seeking Turkish Help in Iraq, Says State Department Official

ISTANBUL (Hurriyet)–Washington is seeking to actively work with Turkey to improve the political stability of Iraq and the economic development of the warn-torn country, said a visiting official from the US State Department on Friday, reported the Turkish Hurriyet Daily Newspaper.

“More broadly, it [Iraq] has been a very important market for Turkey before the war. Iraq needs economic development and political stability and [in] both of those areas, Turkey has a very important role [to play],” said Anne Marie Slaughter, the director of policy planning for the U.S. State Department.

Under a security pact between Baghdad and Washington, the Americans must pull back from Iraqi cities by June 30 and from the entire country by the end of 2011. But the continued violence has raised concerns about the readiness of the Iraqi security forces to protect the people.

“The question of how to move heavy equipment out of Iraq is bigger than that of the pullout of U.S. troops,” Slaughter said, adding that officials have been engaged in talks with relevant countries on the issue.

When asked about the possibility of withdrawing troops or heavy equipment via Turkish territory, she responded: “We are negotiating with various governments about what will be possible or not, which is also a matter for Turkey as well.”

Slaughter is currently visiting Turkey to hold talks with her counterparts on key policy issues, including the Middle East, Pakistan-Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq. She arrived Tuesday and is set to leave Saturday. On Tuesday, Slaughter held various talks with officials in Ankara; on Wednesday, she met with representatives of the Turkish business community in Istanbul.

A former dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University, Slaughter was appointed to her State Department post by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in January.

Though Slaughter had never traveled to Turkey before being appointed, since January, she has visited the country twice. “That should tell you something about the importance of Turkey in the way President Obama and Secretary Clinton see the world,” she said.

Slaughter also expressed her government’s desire to work with Turkey in tackling key issues facing the world and to see the country as part of the solution.

According to the State Department official, Turkey has an important role to play in the Middle East, Iran, Iraq and Syria–and particularly in Afghanistan and Pakistan–as well as the Balkans, Caucasus and Black Sea region, as Washington focuses on education and strengthening democracy in those parts of the world.

“Turkey has very important diplomatic roles to play because it has the confidence of the Pakistani government. It also has an important social and educational role to play particularly,” she said. “The Turkish education system is more relevant to the Pakistani education system than the American educational system.” She added that Turkish schools could be important in Pakistan in terms of educating girls.

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