A top US State Department official urged Turkey on Thursday to show restraint in responding to attacks inside the country by Turkish Kurds operating from Iraqi territory, a senior State Department official said.
Assistant Secretary of State Dan Fried issued the call for calm to Turkish Ambassador Nabi Sensoy after the Turkish military sought government approval to launch cross border raids into Iraq to root out Kurdish guerrillas, the official said.
The official asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak on the record.
Earlier, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack acknowledged the legitimacy of Turkey's concern.
"Turkey faces a real threat from the PKK," he said. "It's a terrorist organization. It has killed innocent Turkish citizens. It has killed Turkish military. And it's a problem that needs to be dealt with."
But, he said, the Turkish and Iraqi governments should work together to try to resolve the problem.
"The focus should be on trying to resolve this in a cooperative way, in a joint way, rather than to resort to unilateral actions," McCormack said.
Hostilities between Turkey and Iraq would put the US in the middle of a conflict between two close allies and would deflect attention from the US effort to bring stability to Iraq.
Massoud Barzani, leader of the Kurdish autonomous region in Iraq, said recently that Iraqi Kurds would retaliate for any Turkish interference in northern Iraq by stirring up trouble in Turkey's predominantly Kurdish southeast.
The head of Turkey's armed forces said publicly on Thursday, in the military's sharpest language to date, that he was prepared to conduct operations in northern Iraq to crush Kurdish rebels hiding there.
It is a frightening situation for the US, which is struggling to keep the war in Iraq from spreading beyond that country's borders. And while the threat is not immediate -- it would require approval from Turkey's diverse Parliament -- the issue has grown more urgent in recent weeks, spurred by highly publicized funerals of soldiers killed in battles with rebels and by calls for action from politicians of all stripes.
"Should there be an operation into northern Iraq?" said General Yasar Buyukanit, Turkey's chief of staff, speaking at a hastily convened news conference in Ankara, his first since taking the position eight months ago. "If I look at it from an exclusively military point of view, yes, there should be. Would it be profitable? Yes, it would."
Still, he added that, "For a cross-border operation, there has to be a political decision."
The remarks, the most strident in a series of recent expressions of rising frustration by Turkey, ratcheted up pressure on Iraq over the presence of Kurdish rebels based in the autonomous region south of the mountainous and porous border between Iraq and Turkey.
The issue is sensitive. While Shiite and Sunni Arab politicians in Iraq appear to be increasingly resistant to US influence, the Iraqi Kurds remain the US' strongest allies in an increasingly bloody war.
But the US is also an ally of Turkey, and the Turkish government is frustrated by its inability to use its leverage in a country occupied by its fellow NATO member.
Buyukanit registered that frustration in his comments. He criticized Massoud Barzani, the Kurdish leader of northern Iraq and a major US ally who dismissed Turkish concerns about looming Kurdish autonomy in a recent interview with an Arabic television station, but said he held the US responsible.
When entering northern Iraq today, "You are met by Kurdish flags, not Iraqi ones," he said. "The Kurdish national anthem plays."
Turkey's growing nervousness over Kurdish influence on its doorstep has developed into recent shifts in policy. The state minister for trade, Kursad Tuzmen, was quoted in recent days as saying that the government planned to open a border crossing with Syria at Akcakale over the next two months to keep the flow of Turkish goods moving south in case the single border crossing with Iraq was shut down.
The parliamentary chairman, Bulent Arinc, who spoke at a news conference before Buyukanit, said that the US had abandoned the Kurds in the past, a piece of history that could repeat itself.
"Even under Saddam, every time the Kurds revolted, trusting the United States, they always perished, lost and felt wretched. I advise them to be cautious also today," he said.
"The US leaves this region," he added, "but we have been here for thousands of years."
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