No promises made in talks on Kurds

Kurdish leaders make no move to curb guerrillas

November 04, 2007|By Paul Richter | Paul Richter,Los Angeles Times

ISTANBUL, Turkey -- U.S. officials met with Iraqi and Turkish diplomats here yesterday on the crisis threatening Iraq's northern border, but key Kurdish officials failed to offer assurances that they will move against Kurdish militants attacking Turkey from their haven in the region, American officials said.

A delegation headed by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with the foreign ministers of Turkey and Iraq amid a broader two-day meeting of Arab countries and world powers on Iraq's many problems.

But Ryan C. Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, acknowledged that while the leaders of the Iraqi region known as Kurdistan are offering rhetorical support, they have not taken any action demonstrating that they will move against the militants as the United States and Turkey want.

"A lot of the right things are being said," Crocker told reporters. "But what's important is that the right things are done on the ground."

Turkish officials indicated that Rice had failed during two days of talks to persuade them not to send troops across the Iraqi border to attack Kurdish rebels based there.

Even before Rice's plane had left the ground to take the secretary to Israel for Mideast peace talks, Turkish officials said that they'd heard nothing new during her visit and that tens of thousands of Turkish troops would remain poised at the Turkish-Iraqi border.

"All options are on the table. How, when and whether or not to use these instruments is a matter of strategy for us," Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan told a news conference.

Leaders of the regional government in the semi-autonomous enclave in Iraq's north, and especially veteran leader Massoud Barzani, have crucial leverage over the separatist guerrillas from the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK. Barzani's political party has fought the PKK, but it is reluctant to commit too forcefully to a fight that could be costly and could also alienate Kurdish popular sentiment.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has less leverage over the guerrillas, but he vowed yesterday to take action.

"Iraq should not be a base for attacks against neighbors," al-Maliki told delegates at the meeting. "We will cooperate with our neighbors in defeating this threat."

Crocker insisted that the meeting was a productive step in the run-up to a meeting tomorrow at the White House between President Bush and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The Turkish government, which has about 100,000 troops massed on its border with Iraq, has said it would give the Bush administration only a few more days to present its case that Ankara should not attack the PKK in a way that would destabilize the northern Iraq region.

Crocker rebuffed questions on a reported U.S. proposal under which Turkey, the United States and Iraq would begin a new campaign to stop the 3,500-member militant group. He said the issue was now between Bush and Erdogan, who is bringing along the No. 2 officer in the Turkish army to show his seriousness about possible military action.

Many observers, including some Iraqi officials, think that the U. S. would not object if Turkey decided to mount limited raids on the guerrillas. Asked if the United States would object to such strikes, Crocker said: "The Turks are not likely to feel the need for our permission. They are a sovereign nation."

Crocker also disclosed that the United States hopes to have a fourth one-on-one meeting with Iranian officials about Iraqi security in the "next couple of weeks." Those meetings so far have produced no agreement.

Crocker said he had limited hopes for the new meeting, but added, "Let's see where it goes." He said Iraqi officials, who want the U.S. and Iran to work out their differences, are eager for a meeting. The United States has charged that Iranian weapons have been funneled to fighters in Iraq.

Paul Richter writes for the Los Angeles Times. McClatchy Newspapers contributed to this article.

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