US vows help for Turkey against Kurdish rebels
Washington, November 6, 2007
US President George W Bush, facing Turkish threats of a military strike against Kurdish rebels in Iraq, told Turkey's leader that he was committed to countering the militants and offered to share intelligence with Ankara.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, who met Bush at the White House, has made clear he wants concrete action from Washington to combat the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, which has been launching attacks on Turkey from Iraqi soil.
The Turkish prime minister seemed satisfied with the talks but did not indicate whether Bush had persuaded him to delay a military operation.
'The PKK is a terrorist organization. They're an enemy of Turkey, they're an enemy of Iraq and they're an enemy of the US,' Bush said after their talks.
Ankara is impatient at what it considers US and Iraqi foot-dragging over the threat from the PKK militants and has massed 100,000 troops on the Iraqi border.
Bush is worried that a Turkish incursion could destabilize a part of Iraq that has so far escaped much of the violence plaguing other areas of the country. US officials also worry that Turkish action could lead to a wider regional crisis.
But Bush dismissed as 'hypothetical' a question about the potential impact of a Turkish incursion.
Nato-member Turkey is a crucial ally for Washington, which uses Incirlik air base to provide logistical support for its forces in Iraq.
Bush said Erdogan had strongly urged the US to work with Iraqi leaders to cut off money flows to the Kurdish rebel group.
'We talked about the need to have better intelligence sharing,' he said. 'In order to chase down people who murder people, you need good intelligence. We talked about the need for our militaries to stay in constant contact.'
While not directly discussing his plans regarding military action, Erdogan reminded Bush that Turkey's parliament last month had authorized the government to take action across the border 'if necessary.'
'This is a mandate for a cross-border operation that solely aims (at) the PKK. It cannot and it does not cover civilians,' Erdogan said said through a translator.
At a separate appearance at the National Press Club later, Erdogan said he was 'happy' with the talks he had with Bush.
He seemed particularly pleased by Bush's labelling of the PKK as an enemy, a phrase US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also used during a visit to Turkey last weekend.
'I suppose I don't need to explain what we understand from the word 'enemy,'' Erdogan said.
Turkish officials had suggested ahead of the White House meeting that the session could be crucial to determining whether Turkey would decide whether to move large numbers of troops into Iraq.
Erdogan is facing strong public pressure to hunt down the Kurdish rebels after a series of attacks on Turkish soldiers in recent weeks. However, some of the pressure could be eased by the release on Sunday of eight Turkish soldiers.
'It sounds as if President Bush did not go beyond the statements of support that had been offered before,' said Bulent Aliriza, an expert on Turkey at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
Still, Aliriza said Erdogan appeared willing to give the intelligence-sharing effort some time work.
'He doesn't sound like a man who's going to launch a strike tomorrow,' Aliriza said. 'But he's going to come under tremendous pressure when he goes home.' Reuters