Turkey and US bring up potential for joint action

thumbnail4.jpeg NATO allies Turkey and the US have almost simultaneously signaled that a joint US-Turkish strike against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) based in northern Iraq could soon be placed on the agenda. 



While the White House announced that US President George W. Bush, in a telephone call with his Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gül, had offered support for Turkey’s efforts to counter attacks by the PKK, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip ErdoÄŸan confirmed there had been talks over a joint operation, in remarks published on Tuesday. 


Bush said the US has “reaffirmed our commitment to work with Turkey and Iraq to combat PKK terrorists operating out of northern Iraq,” White House National Security Council spokesperson Gordon Johndroe said in Washington on Monday. 


Johndroe did not elaborate on the nature of the cooperation, yet US daily the Chicago Tribune reported on Tuesday that Bush had told Gül that US officials were seriously looking into options beyond diplomacy. 


Nevertheless, on a flight to Britain on Monday for an official two-day visit, Erdoğan told reporters that he received a signal that Washington might become involved, during a telephone conversation with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Sunday. 


“We may conduct a joint operation with the United States against the PKK in northern Iraq. … We expect to work jointly, just as we do in Afghanistan,” ErdoÄŸan was quoted as saying in the Tuesday edition of the Hürriyet daily. 


“She was worried. I saw she was in favor of a joint operation. She asked for a few days’ time and said she would get back to us,” Erdoğan said, stressing that the issue would be the focus of his planned talks with Bush in Washington, scheduled for Nov. 5. 


Sources at the presidential palace in Ankara, meanwhile, declined to comment on the content of the conversation when approached by Today’s Zaman on Tuesday. However, the Chicago Tribune quoted a US official familiar with the conversation as saying that Bush assured Gül that the US was looking seriously into options beyond diplomacy to stop the attacks coming from the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq. 


“It’s not ‘Kumbaya’ time anymore — just talking about trilateral talks is not going to be enough. Something has to be done,” the US official said. 


While the use of US soldiers on the ground to root out the PKK would be the last resort, the US would be willing to launch air strikes on PKK targets, the officials said, and has discussed the use of cruise missiles, the Chicago Tribune reported. But air strikes using manned aircraft may be an easier option because the US controls the airspace over Iraq, the officials also told the daily. 


Another option would be to persuade the autonomous Kurdish government in the north to order its peshmerga forces to form a cordon preventing the movement of the PKK beyond its mountain camps, US officials and experts said. Rice spoke with regional government Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani on Sunday to request his cooperation in dealing with the PKK, the daily said. 


“In the past, there has been reluctance to engage in direct US military action against the PKK, either through air strikes or some kind of special forces action,” said the official, familiar with the Bush-Gül conversation, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “But the red line was always, if the Turks were going to come over the border, it could be so destabilizing that it might be less risky for us to do something ourselves. Now the Turks are at the end of their rope, and our risk calculations are changing.” 


A senior Turkish official who wished to remain anonymous told Today’s Zaman on Monday that Rice had requested three days from Erdoğan to allow the withdrawal of US troops from northern Iraq to prevent a possible confrontation of Turkish and US troops in the event that Turkey starts an incursion into northern Iraq to strike against bases of the PKK terrorist organization.

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