Turks Press U.S. For Action On Rebels


Nov 03, 2007

Turkey (AP) – Faced with the prospect of another front opening in
the already difficult Iraq war, the United States struggled Friday to
persuade Turkey not to send its army across the Iraqi border to attack
guerrillas who use the remote terrain to launch strikes inside Turkey.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged calm and cooperation in a
string of meetings with top Turkish leaders fed up with rebel attacks
and insistent that Turkey will do what it must to stop them.

She made a similar argument later Friday in a separate meeting with
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose government has said
it will not stand for any cross-border assault. Foreign Minister
Ali Babacan sounded impatient, and he offered no public promise of
the restraint Washington seeks. "We have great expectations from
the United States," Babacan said at a news conference following
his meeting with Rice. "We are at the point where words have been
exhausted and where there is need for action." Ankara has said Turkey
wants to hear specifics about what the United States is prepared to
do to counter the rebel Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, or Turkey
will launch an attack. Rebel attacks against Turkish positions over
the last month have left 47 dead, including 35 soldiers, according to
government and media reports. Many Turks are furious with the United
States for its perceived failure to pressure Iraq into cracking down
on the PKK, which operates from bases in the semiautonomous Kurdish
region of northern Iraq. Street protesters have urged the government
to send forces across the border even if it means deepening the rift
with the U.S., their NATO ally. Turkey’s military chief has said the
country will wait until after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan meets
with President Bush next week in Washington to make a final decision
about an assault. Washington worries a Turkish incursion would bring
instability to what has been the calmest part of Iraq, and could set
a precedent for other countries, like Iran, that also have conflicts
with Kurdish rebels. Babacan returned from a trip to Iran last week,
lobbying for support for the Turkish side and underscoring that Turkey
will act as it sees fit, regardless of U.S. pressure.

"We all need to redouble our efforts and the United States is
committed to redoubling our efforts," Rice said. "No one should doubt
the commitment of the United States in this situation." She said the
United States is working to broaden its sharing of intelligence and
has begun discussing longer-term solutions that would involve Turkey,
Iraq and the United States. In a sign of potential cooperation, the
Kurdish region’s Minister of Culture Falkadin Kakei told The Associated
Press in Baghdad that Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party
has agreed to meet a delegation of Iraqi Kurds to discuss the crisis.

"This is a positive development, before Erdogan refused to meet with
(Iraqi Kurd leader Massoud) Barzani or deal with the Kurdish government
as an official entity, now this is happening on the level of political
parties," he said without giving a date for the meeting.

Kakei, who is reportedly on Turkey’s wanted list for his ties to
the PKK, said he expected these talks to lead eventually to a direct
dialogue between Ankara and Irbil, something the Turkish government has
refused to do so far, accusing Iraq’s Kurds of "aiding and abetting"
the separatist guerrillas. The United States charges that weapons
and foreign fighters flow over Iraq’s borders from Iran and Syria
to confront U.S. forces, but until now the border area with Turkey
has been relatively quiet. "It is our hope and our desire that as a
country that has been the target of a big terror attack the U.S. will
understand the situation we are in, understand the frustration we
feel, the outrage," Babacan said, according to a simultaneous English
translation of his words. The conflict between Turkey and the Kurdish
rebels predates the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and has little to do
with the sectarian divisions that have all but paralyzed Iraq’s fragile
U.S.-backed government and prolonged the war. The United States paid
little attention to the issue, despite Turkish complaints, until the
burst of rebel attacks this fall threatened to bring open warfare to
Iraq’s largely self-governing north – the only part of the country
that has been relatively safe, stable and economically sound.

Bush had named a former NATO supreme commander – retired Air Force
Gen. Joseph Ralston – as a U.S. envoy to try to defuse tensions,
but the general resigned in apparent frustration last month.

Rice’s visit to Ankara is a sign of the priority Washington now
places on cooling a conflict that places the U.S. between important
NATO ally Turkey, the weak U.S.-backed government in Baghdad and
the self-governing Kurds in Iraq’s oil-rich north. Rice rearranged a
previously scheduled trip to Turkey to add meetings in the capital,
where she also tried to soothe lingering Turkish irritation over
a vote in Congress last month that labeled as genocide the 1915
killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks.