U.S. to back Turkey in fight with rebels

Bush offers help to strike Kurds in northern Iraq

November 06, 2007|By Mark Silva | Mark Silva,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

WASHINGTON -- With Turkey poised to attack Kurdish rebels launching cross-border assaults from northern Iraq, President Bush pledged yesterday to cooperate with the Turkish military in locating and disrupting terrorist camps responsible for the conflict.

After a meeting between Bush and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, the White House indicated that it is too soon to tell whether a Turkish incursion into the Kurdish territory of northern Iraq would be averted.

But Bush and Erdogan indicated they are willing to work together, coordinating the intelligence of the U.S. and Turkish militaries, to track down and "dissolve" the camps and disrupt the supply lines of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK.

"The PKK is an enemy of Turkey, a free Iraq and the United States of America," Bush said, seated next to the Turkish leader in the Oval Office after their private meeting.

"Turkey is a strategic partner and strong ally of America," Bush said, suggesting that what the Turkish people should draw from this meeting is his understanding of how "serious" the problem is and how committed the U.S. is to taking action.

"We had a long discussion about a common concern ... that concern is the PKK," Bush said. "The PKK is a terrorist organization. ... The point is, I made it very clear to the prime minister that we want to work in a very close way to deal with this problem."

Relations between the U.S. and Turkey have been strained by congressional moves to speak out against the massacres carried out against Armenians by the Ottoman Empire. There was no public mention of that resolution in the Oval Office, where Bush and Erdogan sat before the fireplace fielding questions from U.S. and Turkish reporters and presenting the picture of a common front.

But they spoke about it privately, Erdogan said later during an address at the National Press Club.

Noting that sponsors of the resolution are willing to hold it from a vote of the full House, Erdogan said, "We view this with cautious optimism. This draft has the potential to deeply damage our strategic cooperation, and it is important to ensure that it is not discussed on the floor of Congress. And we appreciate greatly the commonsensical approach that has been presented by many members of Congress and the U.S. administration to prevent discussion of this resolution on the floor."

The Turkish leader echoed his remarks about cooperation with the U.S. at the press club in downtown Washington.

"We have a strategic partnership with the United States, and that strategic partnership is very important for the region and also for the world," Erdogan said. "Relations between our two countries have passed through important tests over time, but both countries have managed to overcome these tests successfully."

High-ranking leaders of the Turkish and U.S. militaries, including Army Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, will coordinate intelligence about the movements of the PKK and means of disrupting them, including cutting off their financing, the leaders agreed.

Outside the White House gates, more than 100 Kurdish-American protesters marched and chanted, hoisting placards reading "Stop Turkish aggression."

Inside the Oval Office, the Turkish prime minister said his parliament had given him the authority - a "mandate" - to take cross-border action against the PKK, "if necessary."

The conflict reaches back to the 1980s, when the PKK rose against the government for an autonomous Kurdish homeland in southeastern Turkey. Tensions flared again recently after an ambush of Turkish soldiers by rebels who had crossed the border from northern Iraq. Turkey has warned the Iraqi and U.S. governments that it will deal with the PKK, if the U.S. and Iraq don't.

The border crisis has inflamed tensions in the one region of Iraq that has found the greatest stability since the U.S.-led overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime. Erdogan asserted that the solution to the problem is key.

"Their stability is our stability," Erdogan said of Iraq.

Mark Silva writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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