U.S. action on Kurds called for by Turkey

Rice arrives in search of diplomatic solution to conflict

November 03, 2007|By Paul Richter | Paul Richter,Los Angeles Times

ANKARA, Turkey -- Turkey's foreign minister urged the Bush administration yesterday to replace its words with action as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in Ankara for meetings aimed at preventing Turkey from attacking Kurdish militants in northern Iraq.

Foreign Minister Ali Babacan, expressing his country's frustration with continuing attacks, said, "We need action. ... This is where the words end and the action needs to start."

With Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan scheduled to meet with President Bush in the White House on Monday, Rice went to Turkey with hopes of setting a diplomatic course for easing the conflict among the Turks, the Kurdish militant group PKK and the Kurdish regional government in Iraq, which the Turks think supports the militants.

Babacan said his government, which has agreed to delay cross-border attacks at Rice's request, does not want to continue a three-way conversation unless there are strong prospects of finding a solution to the crisis.

"Our expectations of the United States are very high," he said in a joint news conference with Rice. "We need to work on making things happen."

What is needed, he said, is a strategy "that combines both political will and action."

Rice, who also met with Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul, argued that the Turks, the United States and Iraqi authorities need to work together against a "common enemy" and are better off developing a systematic approach to closing down the PKK than with using force in a way that could fall short.

Rice remained vague about the plan she is advocating behind the scenes. She was not specific about what she wants Kurdish regional authorities in Iraq to do to combat the PKK.

"No one should doubt the United States' commitment" to dealing with the problem, Rice said.

She said that U.S. spy planes have begun collecting intelligence on the PKK in the remote mountains where its members hide and that reports have been delivered to Turkish authorities.

U.S. officials continue to argue publicly against Turkish attacks across the border, warning that they could draw the Kurds' Pesh Murga fighters into the fray and destabilize one of the few relatively quiet areas of Iraq.

Some observers, however, including some Iraqi officials, think the United States would not strongly object to Turkish attacks on the PKK if they were brief and focused enough to not risk igniting public outrage and widening the conflict.

About 100,000 Turkish troops, with tanks and other heavy equipment, are massed on the border with northern Iraq.

Babacan's comments were more muted than those of other Turkish leaders in recent days. Those leaders are under tremendous public pressure to crack down on the PKK and have demanded that the United States put more pressure on Kurdish officials in Iraq, whom they accuse of supporting and shielding the PKK.

Rice's visit prompted tight security in Istanbul and in Ankara, the capital. Thousands of police officers were deployed near the sites of her meetings.

Small groups of angry demonstrators turned out at both her stops, reflecting complaints that the United States is the main obstacle to Turkish retaliation against the PKK. In Istanbul, protesters displayed an effigy of Rice and chanted, "Get out, Rice."

Paul Richter writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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