The threat of a full-scale Turkish invasion of northern Iraq seemed to recede yesterday, as President Bush pledged that Washington would do all in its power to stop the PKK Kurdish independence movement from launching cross-border attacks into Turkey from Iraqi Kurdistan.
“The PKK is a terrorist organisation. They’re an enemy of Turkey, they’re an enemy of Iraq and they’re an enemy of the United States,” Mr Bush declared after a White House meeting with the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The meeting was climax to weeks of intense diplomatic activity by Washington to head off an offensive that could create chaos in what has hitherto been the most stable part of Iraq – at a time when the Bush |administration claims |that falling civilian and US military casualties show |
its policies are finally starting to work in the rest of the country.
The talks came less than 48 hours after the PKK freed eight Turkish soldiers captured by its forces during a raid into Turkey on 21 October, in which 12 Turkish soldiers were killed. The release was largely brokered by the US and gave Mr Bush some breathing space before his discussions with Mr Erdogan.
But nothing is yet certain. Faced with clamour at home to deal with the PKK once and for all, Mr Erdogan has publicly declared that Turkey’s “patience was exhausted” with the guerrillas, and that the US must take “concrete action”.
Turkish officials, who have complained that the administration has done little, in practice, to clamp down on PKK activities, portrayed yesterday’s talks as Mr Bush’s last chance to avert an invasion.
The crisis, in which Turkey has sent some 100,000 troops to the Iraqi border, backed by tanks, artillery and aircraft, has placed Washington in an acute dilemma. While desperately wanting to avoid a second war in Iraq, it is equally anxious not to antagonise a key ally, whose air base at Incirlik in eastern Turkey is a vital transit point for supplies to US forces in Iraq.
Only last month, Ankara threatened precisely that, after a congressional committee passed a resolution describing the mass killing of Armenians from 1915 as genocide. Rather than provoke a rupture with Turkey, the measure’s sponsors agreed to postpone a full vote in the House of Representatives, probably until next year.
As the two leaders met, at least 100 protesters outside the front gates of the White House waved Kurdish flags yesterday, chanting “Long live Kurdistan” and “Down with Erdogan”.
Earlier, Dana Perino, the White House spokeswoman, stressed that Turkey was “a long-running ally” and that the US shared its concerns about the PKK.
“We are concerned about the challenge posed by the PKK terrorists,” she told reporters. “They should be eradicated. We will work with Turkey and the Iraqis to make sure there is not a safe haven established for the PKK in that region.”
One incentive the US has put on the table is broader intelligence-sharing with Turkey about the PKK. “Bush is going to have to offer something,” Bulent Aliriza, of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said. “This is an unusual situation. Most of the time, these meetings are very carefully choreographed ahead of time.”
Efforts by Condoleezza Rice to assuage Turkish feelings at a weekend conference on Iraq in Istanbul seemed to have little effect. Although the Secretary of State described the PKK as a “common enemy” of both Turkey and the US, she did not outline any specific action on Washington’s part.