Rice brands PKK ‘common enemy’
US secretary of state seeks ‘commitment and persistence’ against Kurdish fighters.
Rice will later attend wider talks in Istanbul to discuss Ankara’s strategy against the PKK, who have launched attacks against Turkey from bases in northern Iraq.
Iraqi officials are also attending the Istanbul conference, which was originally meant to focus on Iraq’s long-term stability.
The meeting comes amid concerns that Turkey may launch cross-border raids against fighters from the PKK.
Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, is also attending the talks.
Turkey has accused the regional Kurdish government in northern Iraq of harbouring PKK fighters.
“I think it is pretty difficult to say troops shouldn’t [invade] when the Turkish soldiers are being killed, and their villages attacked”
Celtic, Karlstad, Sweden
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The separatist group is said to use bases in the mountainous region for cross-border attacks as part of its 23-year campaign for self-rule in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast.
Rice told reporters earlier en route to Turkey: “We have certainly been concerned that anything that would destabilise the north of Iraq is not going to be in Turkey’s interests, it is not going to be in our interests and it is not going to be in the Iraqis’ interests. That’s been the reason for urging restraint.
“But we understand the need to do something effective against this PKK threat … The PKK is an enemy of the United States just like it is an enemy of the Turks.”
Rice held talks with Tayyip Recep Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister, shortly after arriving in the country and will later meet Abdullah Gul, the president.
Erdogan is due to meet George Bush, the US president, in Washington next week to discuss how to tackle the PKK.
Al Jazeera’s Hoda Abdel Hamid, reporting from Istanbul, said the Turkish public’s expectations over Rice’s visit were low.
“Nothing really concrete [was set out], and I think from the Turkish public opinion point of view it will be quite disappointing,” she reported after the press conference.
“Saying that the US was going to double efforts to share intelligence is not going to be satisfactory [to the Turkish public],” she said.
“I think the key sentence in the press conference came from Babacan when he said he expected the US to take ‘concrete steps’. At the moment we are not hearing about any concrete steps.”
Both Baghdad and Washington strongly oppose any unilateral Turkish action in northern Iraq on the grounds that it would destabilise the only relatively calm region of the war-torn country.
|The government in Iraq has asked Iran to
help resolve the crisis [AFP]
Turkey has reportedly massed up to 100,000 troops on the border with Iraq and has threatened a military incursion to strike at PKK bases unless Baghdad and Washington promise to crack down on the fighters.
The White House has offered Ankara “actionable intelligence” on the PKK.
“We have no time to lose. All instruments – diplomatic, political, socio-cultural and military – are on the table,” Babacan said.
He also said that Turkey may restrict flights to northern Iraq.
Turkish troops have been engaged in major operations targeting the PKK since October 21 when a group of fighters, who Ankara says came from northern Iraq, ambushed a military unit, killing 12 soldiers and capturing eight.
The army says it has since killed 80 fighters on Turkish territory.
A top PKK commander on Thursday called on Ankara to present a peace plan that could end the group’s rebellion, which has claimed more than 37,000 lives.
Turkey refuses to have any contact with or make any concessions to the PKK.