Wed, Nov 07, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Turkish PM reassured by US position

FRAMEWORK In a policy shift on the PKK in Iraq, George W. Bush said the US would help Turkey deal with the problem by sharing more intelligence

AP , WASHINGTON

Kurdish-Americans demonstrate at Lafayette Park across the street from the White House in Washington prior to a meeting between US President George W. Bush and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan on Monday.

PHOTO: AFP

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan said he came out of his private meeting with US President George W. Bush reassured about prospects for Turkey's showdown with Kurdish rebels.

One major result of Monday's discussion between Erdogan and Bush was the establishment of what the president called a framework to deal with the problem of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). Turkey and the US consider the PKK a terrorist organization.

"We talked about the need to have better intelligence-sharing," Bush said after the meeting. "In order to chase down people who murder people you need good intelligence."

"And we talked about the need for our military to stay in constant contact. To this end, the prime minister and I have set up a tripartite arrangement," which will include the US commander in Iraq General David Petraeus.

Though Erdogan did not name the partners in the agreement, the US, Turkey and Iraq would clearly have to work together on the problem.

Asked later about the discussions, Erdogan said: "I don't believe you expect me to tell you everything we discussed, but I am happy."

Bush's apparent offer of more help in the Kurdish part of Iraq, where PKK fighters shelter and mount attacks against Turkish troops across the border, appears to be a change in policy.

As recently as late last month, the US commander in northern Iraq, Army Major General Benjamin Mixon, said he planned to do "absolutely nothing" to counter Kurdish rebels.

A few days later Petraeus said the US was trying to defuse tensions in the area.

"I made it very clear to the prime minister that we want to work in a close way to deal with this problem," Bush told reporters.

With Turkish troops massed on the border with Iraq, Erdogan is weighing a major cross-border attack against PKK rebels. The guerrillas have killed more than 40 Turks in the past month in cross-border raids, and pressure is growing on Erdogan to hit back.

The White House worries that a Turkish incursion into Iraq could bring instability to what has been the calmest part of Iraq, Iraqi Kurdistan and could set a precedent for other countries, such as Iran, that have conflicts with Kurdish rebels.

Asked about the possibility of Turkey's attacking Iraq, Bush dismissed the question as hypothetical. He tried instead to assure Turkey that the US would be providing support.

"It's fine to speculate about what may or may not happen," Bush said. "But nothing can happen until you get good intelligence. We need to know where people are hiding and we need to know what they're doing."

Erdogan's government has authority from parliament to to mount an invasion into Iraq if necessary, but he gave no further indication of his intentions.

Instead, like Bush, he emphasized cooperation with the US.

"As strategic partners, we are fighting jointly against international terrorism in the world," Erdogan said.

It is widely thought that the bulk of the PKK forces -- which traditionally halt operations in the cold winter months because of supply and logistical difficulties -- had scattered as far as southern Iraq, as well as melting into the populations of large cities in the north.

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