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News on Turkey

U.S., U.K. Efforts To Stabilize Iraq-Turkey Border Intensify

Officials urge Iraq government, Kurdish leaders to halt PKK attacks

By David McKeeby
USINFO Staff Writer

23 October 2007

Washington --Stepped-up diplomatic efforts to reduce tensions along Iraq's northern border with Turkey after cross-border attacks by the terrorist group Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) were the focus of an October 22 meeting between Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and British Foreign Secretary David Miliband.

“We will intensify efforts with our Turkish and Iraqi allies to achieve our common goals to end PKK terrorism,” according to a joint statement issued by the State Department after the meeting.  “We call upon Iraqi and Kurdish regional government authorities to take immediate steps to halt PKK operations from Iraqi territory.” (See full text of joint statement.)

The United States and the United Kingdom “are absolutely determined to ensure that there are real deeds that allow the Turkish government to say to their own people that the international community, and, critically, the Iraqi government, are taking this issue with the seriousness that it deserves,” Miliband told reporters after the meeting.  “And if the trilateral process involving the United States can also engage, that can only be a good thing in building the right sort of partnerships to take this forward.”

The situation requires information sharing and a great deal of coordination, according to Rice. “But I'm quite certain that we can sit down and we can work this together if there is enough political will,” she added.

The PKK has been engaged in a long-running conflict in Turkey’s Kurdish-majority southwest along the Iraqi border. The conflict has claimed more than 37,000 lives since 1984.  The PKK’s most recent forays, including an October 21 ambush of a military convoy which killed 12 Turkish soldiers, threaten to destabilize the delicate security balance in northern Iraq and the wider region.

Within hours of the attack, Rice called Turkish Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan and Massoud Barzani, leader of northern Iraq’s Kurdish region, to urge restraint.  The same day, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker met with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani -- an Iraqi Kurd -- who called on the PKK to lay down its arms and leave Iraq. Defense Secretary Robert Gates also met with his Turkish counterpart on the sidelines of a security conference in Kiev, Ukraine. He pledged a continued U.S. commitment to helping Turkey build the intelligence resources necessary to bring PKK militants to justice.

President Bush followed up on those actions on October 22 with a call to Turkish President Abdullah Gul and a videoconference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to discuss ways that the two countries could work to halt the PKK’s terrorist threat, said White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe.

“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,” Johndroe 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,” said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.

Turkey and Iraq recently concluded an agreement on combating cross-border terrorism. A meeting in Istanbul among U.S., Iraqi, and Turkish officials in November on implementing the agreement provides an ideal opportunity for both sides to discuss how best to move forward together against the PKK. 

“It is the policy of the United States that Iraq should not be a place where the territory can be used as any kind of sanctuary for terrorist activity,” Rice said.

See also the full text of the U.S. condemnation of the attacks and a transcript of Rice’s and Miliband’s remarks.