Turkey eyes diplomatic end to Kurdish crisis

Turkey reassured Iraq on Tuesday that it wants a diplomatic solution to the problem of Kurdish rebel rear-bases but rejected a conditional ceasefire offer made by the guerrillas.

“Politics, dialogue, diplomacy, culture and economy are the measures to deal with this crisis,” Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan told a joint news conference in Baghdad with his Iraqi counterpart, Hoshyar Zebari.

“We do not want to sacrifice our cultural and economic relations with Iraq for the sake of a terror organisation,” he said, referring to the rebel Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has bases in northern Iraq.

But Babacan rejected a truce offer made by the PKK on Monday in return for an end to Turkish military action.

“The issue of ceasefire is an issue between two countries and two armies and not with a terror organisation,” he said.

The Iraqi foreign minister pledged that Baghdad would assist Ankara in its struggle against the PKK, which has waged a deadly insurgency for Kurdish self-rule in south-eastern Turkey since 1984.

He said the rebel issue was “complex and grave and the Iraqi government will actively help Turkey to overcome this menace”.

“A series of measures have already been taken by the Iraqi government to cooperate with Turkey against the rebels, including restricting their movements, funding and closing of their offices,” said Zebari, who is himself a Kurd.

Babacan said diplomacy remained the best way to resolve the crisis despite the “huge anger” in Turkey over the deaths of 12 soldiers in a weekend attack by the rebels on a patrol near the border.

But in London, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that that did not mean that Ankara had ruled out recourse to military action, after Turkish MPs gave his government the necessary authorisation last week.

“The Iraqi government must know that we can exercise this mandate we have received from the Turkish Parliament at any time,” Erdogan said after talks with his British counterpart, Gordon Brown.

Erdogan said any incursion into northern Iraq would be aimed solely at flushing out PKK rebels, who have stepped up their insurgency in recent weeks.

“We have no calculations on the territorial integrity or political unity of Iraq,” he said. “Any such effort would target only the PKK.”

Brown said he understood the anger and frustration in Turkey at the presence of rebel bases across the border.

“I can assure you we are doing everything in our power ... to make sure that there is no safe haven for terrorist organisations in that part of Iraq threatening Turkey,” he said.

Ahead of his talks in London, Erdogan had raised the possibility of joint action with the United States against PKK bases inside Iraq.

As he flew into London, he told the mass-selling Turkish daily Hurriyet that he had discussed with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice the possibility of joint action against the rebels.

Erdogan said he received the signal that Washington might become involved during a telephone conversation with Rice on Sunday.

“She was worried.
I saw she was in favour of a joint operation,” he said. “She asked for a few days’ time and said she would come back to us.”

In a telephone conversation with his Turkish counterpart, Abdullah Gul on Monday, President George Bush promised US cooperation in Turkey’s struggle against Kurdish rebels.

“The president reaffirmed our commitment to work with Turkey and Iraq to combat PKK terrorists operating out of northern Iraq,” White House national security council spokesperson Gordon Johndroe said.

The Chicago Tribune reported that the US military was considering air strikes on the rebels.

Citing an official familiar with Bush’s conversation with Gul, the newspaper said cruise missile launches against PKK targets have been discussed, but air strikes using manned aircraft were an easier option.

“In the past, there has been reluctance to engage in direct US military action against the PKK,” the official told the Tribune.

“But the red line was always, if the Turks were going to come over the border, it could be so destabilising that it might be less risky for us to do something ourselves.”

The US, which uses the Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey as a major staging post for supplies headed to its forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, fears any unilateral military action by Turkey could wreck efforts to stabilise Iraq.—AFP

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