October 17, 2007 / 4:44 PM / 10 years ago

Allies urge Turkey to hold off N Iraq action

(adds Kurdish reaction, paragraphs 5-6)

By Caren Bohan

WASHINGTON, Oct 17 (Reuters) - The United States and other Western allies, as well as Baghdad, urged Turkey to refrain from military action in northern Iraq after Ankara’s parliament gave permission on Wednesday for an attack on Kurdish separatists there.

"We are making it very clear to Turkey that we don’t think it is in their interests to send troops into Iraq," President George W. Bush told a news conference. "Actually, they have troops already stationed in Iraq ... We don’t think it’s in their interests to send more troops in."

Since the late 1990s, Turkey has kept small deployments of troops in border areas of northern Iraq from where Kurdish rebels launch attacks in eastern Turkey in a campaign for an independent homeland there. But the presence has been largely discreet and low key.

A recent sharp rise in PKK killings has put Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan under pressure to launch a major operation Washington fears could unleash chaos in the region. An incursion could stir ethnic conflict in the mainly Kurdish north, endanger oil supplies and deepen U.S. problems in the rest of Iraq.

The Kurdish regional government in northern Iraq said a Turkish attack on Kurdish separatists there would not be effective and would only harm regional stability.

"Everyone in Turkey, even the ruling establishment, knows very well that their country will not reach their goals by following the military option in trying to solve the PKK issue," the regional government said in a statement.

Bush said in talks with Turkey, Washington was pressing its message that it understands Ankara’s concerns about the Kurdish rebel group but "there’s a better way to deal with the issue than having the Turks send massive troops into (Iraq)".



NATO CONTACTS PRESIDENT

Turkey says parliament’s vote does not mean any attack is imminent. Erdogan said this week he hoped the problem of about 3,000 Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) rebels could be solved without any incursion.

Just before the vote, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer telephoned President Abdullah Gul to urge patience while diplomacy ran its course.

NATO spokesman James Appathurai said the alliance viewed the PKK as a terrorist group.

But he said Ankara had not made any request for NATO to invoke a clause in its treaty calling on nations to come to the aid of an ally under attack, nor had it requested military help.

"None of this has been requested by the Turkish authorities," he said, noting that NATO allies individually continued to provide Turkey with intelligence.

The European Commission reiterated it hoped Turkey would respect Iraq’s territorial integrity. "It is crucial that Turkey continues to tackle this problem through cooperation between the relevant authorities," spokeswoman Krisztina Nagy said.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, who is a Kurd, condemned PKK tactics but urged Turkey to show restraint.

"We consider the activities of the PKK against the interests of the Kurdish people and against the interests of Turkey. We have asked the PKK to stop fighting and end military activity," Talabani said during a visit to Paris.

Turkey argues that Iraq and the United States have failed in previous undertakings to rein in the PKK. (additional reporting by Mark John in Brussels)



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