Syria's Assad backs Turkey over Kurds

ANKARA (Reuters) - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has backed neighboring Turkey’s tough stance over Kurdish rebels operating out of northern Iraq.

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad reads a message from his Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul during a meeting with Turkey's Foreign Minister Ali Babacan in Damascus October 7, 2007. Assad has backed neighboring Turkey's tough stance over Kurdish rebels operating out of northern Iraq. REUTERS Khaled al-Hariri

“Without a doubt, we support the decisions taken by the Turkish government against terrorism and we accept them as a legitimate right of Turkey,” Assad told a joint news conference with Turkish President Abdullah Gul on Wednesday.

Turkey’s parliament was expected later on Wednesday to grant permission to the army to conduct cross-border incursions into mainly Kurdish northern Iraq against rebels of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) who use the region as a base.

Assad said U.S. forces in Iraq were the main source of the “terrorist activities” in that country. Syria is accused by Washington of sponsoring terrorism.

Turkey is a NATO ally of the United States but Ankara fears U.S. policy in Iraq is leading inexorably to the creation of an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq.

It fears this could reignite separatism among Turkey’s own large ethnic Kurdish population in the southeast.

Opposition to a Kurdish state has pushed Turkey closer to Syria and Iran, arch-foes of the United States which are also both home to large Kurdish communities.

The foreign ministers of Turkey and Syria signed an agreement on boosting economic, political, security and energy cooperation.

Despite its frustration with U.S. policy in Iraq, Turkey remains firmly anchored in Western security structures and hopes to join the European Union.

It is also one of the few countries in the region to have close security and trade ties with Syria’s enemy Israel.

Ankara blames the PKK for the deaths of more than 30,000 people since the group launched its armed campaign for an ethnic homeland in southeast Turkey in 1984.