Bush steps up US aid to Turkey

President George W Bush, vying to avert a Turkish incursion into Iraq, has pledged to step up US military and intelligence cooperation to aid Turkey's fight against Kurdish rebels.

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Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan welcomed Mr Bush's promise made at crisis talks here, but said his country had no plans to withdraw some 100,000 troops massed on the border with Iraq.

“We will continue to take those precautions,” he said.

Mr Bush insisted that the United States stood shoulder to shoulder with its NATO ally Turkey over a spate of deadly cross-border attacks by the separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

“Turkey is a strategic partner and strong ally of America,” the president told reporters, sitting next to Erdogan in the White House Oval Office.

“(The) PKK is a terrorist organization. They're an enemy of Turkey. They're an enemy of Iraq. And they're an enemy of the United States,” Mr Bush said.

The president announced a new three-way military partnership grouping the United States, Turkey and Iraq to improve the sharing of real-time intelligence on the PKK.

Washington was also looking at cutting off money flows to the Kurdish rebels, and their ease of travel, he said.

Protests

As Pakistan sinks deeper into political crisis, Mr Bush would be loath to see any escalation in tensions between Turkey, another crucial anti-terror partner, and US allies in northern Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region.

As the two leaders met, hundreds of banner-waving ethnic Kurds rallied outside the White House with chants of “stop the Turkish invasion.”

“We are not after war. We have a mandate from the Turkish parliament to conduct an (anti-PKK) operation,” Mr Erdogan said at Washington's National Press Club, describing himself has “happy” as a result of his talks with Mr Bush.

The prime minister said Turkey had no expansionist designs in Iraq, but stressed that his country's patience with the PKK was exhausted.

“We would like to see the US and Iraqi governments take concrete action urgently, to go beyond rhetoric and clean out the PKK from northern Iraq,” he said in a speech to the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

In Ankara on Friday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pledged to “redouble” US efforts to combat the Kurdish fighters, but stressed it would take time and effort to flush them out of their mountainous redoubts.

Kurdish leader proposes four-party talks

Iraqi Kurdish regional prime minister Nechirvan Barzani proposed four-party talks to end the PKK incursions — with his administration as one of the participants along with Ankara, Baghdad and Washington.

“This is a transnational issue, complicated by ethnic ties, and no party can find a solution on its own,” Mr Barzani wrote in the Washington Post.

But PKK leader Murat Karayilan called on the Iraqi Kurdish leadership to stand by its ethnic kin.

“No action (against the PKK) can be successful … as long as we, the Kurds, preserve our unity,” he told the Firat news agency, considered to be a mouthpiece of the PKK.

Mr Erdogan was accompanied by Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan and Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul on his brief visit to Washington, before he headed on to Rome for talks with Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi.

Despite Iraq's announcement of new steps to curb the PKK separatists, Mr Babacan said military options “remain on the table.”

Some observers fear that US influence with Turkey has been undermined by a push in Congress to label the Ottoman Empire's World War I massacre of ethnic Armenians as “genocide.”

But fierce pressure from both Turkey and the White House appears to have paid off for now, with its Democratic authors agreeing to shelve a debate on the resolution in the House of Representatives.

“We view this with cautious optimism,” Erdogan said, after his government had threatened to cut off US military access to a Turkish air base if the resolution was adopted by the full House.

“We are ready to settle accounts with our history, but our documents indicate that no such genocide took place. In fact our values do not permit our people to commit genocide,” the Turkish leader said.