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US pressures Turkey to avoid an incursion into Iraq

The White House is fearful region could get worse

WASHINGTON - The United States has opened a "diplomatic full court press" to keep Turkey from invading northern Iraq, an incursion that could further destabilize Iraq and the region.

President Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and other US officials implored Turkish and Iraqi leaders to work together to counter the threat from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), US officials said yesterday as Turkish troops headed toward the border and tensions soared.

Bush spoke by phone with President Abdullah Gul of Turkey and by secure videoconference to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of Iraq to urge the two governments to work together to deal with the group after a weekend ambush by rebel Kurds killed 12 Turkish soldiers and left eight missing, the White House said.

To Gul, Bush "expressed his deep concern about the recent attacks by PKK terrorists against Turkish soldiers and civilians," spokesman Gordon Johndroe said. "The president reaffirmed our commitment to work with Turkey and Iraq to combat PKK terrorists operating out of northern Iraq [and] told President Gul that the United States will continue to urge the Iraqis to take action against the PKK."

Bush and Maliki "agreed to work together, in cooperation with the Turkish government, to prevent the PKK from using any part of Iraqi territory to plan or carry out terrorist attacks," Johndroe said. "The prime minister agreed with President Bush that Turkey should have no doubt about our mutual commitment to end all terrorist activity from Iraqi soil."

The US designates the PKK as a terrorist organization.

"I don't want to speculate about specifically what we might do, but this is an issue of deep concern to the United States," Rice told reporters last night.

The Pentagon has said 60,000 Turkish soldiers have deployed along the border. The north is one of the few relatively calm Iraqi regions, and the United States fears an incursion by its ally Turkey could worsen the Iraq war.

After weeks of stepped-up clashes between Turkish troops and rebels, tensions rose even higher after the guerrilla ambush Sunday. The Turkish Army said 34 rebels died in a counterattack.

In addition to Bush's conversations, Rice called Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the leader of Iraq's Kurdish region, Massoud Barzani, on Sunday to press the US case for restraint from Turkey and action from Iraq against the Kurdish militants, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

Rice told Erdogan that "we do not believe unilateral cross-border operations are the best way to address this issue," according to McCormack.

Rice told Barzani that Iraqi authorities needed to take action against the PKK either on their own or with the Turks, McCormack said, a sentiment echoed in a joint statement issued by Rice and British Foreign Secretary David Miliband in Washington.

"We continue to believe that cooperation and coordination between Turkey and Iraq is the most effective means to eliminate the PKK threat," Rice and Miliband said, adding that they had proposed a three-way meeting between the United States, Iraq, and Turkey at a Nov. 2-3 meeting in Istanbul.

As Rice spoke to Erdogan and Barzani Sunday, the US Ambassador to Iraq, Ryan C. Crocker, was making similar points in Baghdad with President Jalal Talabani of Iraq - a Kurd - who ordered the PKK to lay down their arms or leave Iraq, and Maliki, a Shi'ite.

"From our perspective this is a diplomatic full-court press," McCormack said. "We want to see an outcome where you have the Turks and the Iraqis working together and we will do what we can to resolve the issue without a Turkish cross-border incursion."

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