IMAGE: TURKISH STUDENTS PROTEST AGAINST UNITED STATES
Serkan Senturk  /  AP
University students wave a huge Turkish flag during a protest against the United States in Istanbul on Friday.
updated 11/2/2007 9:03:38 PM ET 2007-11-03T01:03:38

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice assured Turkish officials Friday that Kurdish rebels based in northern Iraq were a “common threat” and that the United States would help Ankara in its fight against them.

Speaking after meeting with both Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Ali Babacan, Rice said she had emphasized that the United States is “committed to redoubling its efforts” to help Turkey in its struggle against the rebel fighters.

“We consider this a common threat, not just to the interests of Turkey but to the interests of the United States as well,” she said at a joint news conference with Babacan. “This is going to take persistence and it’s going to take commitment — this is a very difficult problem.”

Babacan signaled that Turkey might be willing to consult with Washington before moving ahead with any cross-border attack on the rebels, but he noted Ankara wants more than supportive words from the U.S.

“We have great expectations from the United States. We are at the point where words have been exhausted and where there is need for action,” Babacan said.

During the meeting between Rice and Babacan, the foreign minister pressed the secretary of state for urgent action, according to a Turkish government official who was present.

“Our wish is that the United States, which itself has been target of big terrorist attack, understands the difficult position that we are in and the anger we feel,” Babacan said.

En route here, Rice told reporters in her traveling party that the United States, Turkey and Iraq will counter any attacks on Turkey by the rebels.

She didn’t specify just what that meant but did warn against doing anything that might worsen the volatile situation on the Turkish-Iraqi border.

Washington worries that a cross-border incursion would bring instability to what has been the calmest part of Iraq, and could set a precedent for other countries, like Iran, who also have conflicts with Kurdish rebels.

But Ankara has been resolute in saying that, unless it hears concrete measures the United States will take against the rebel Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, it will launch an attack.

Rice said the U.S. was looking at enhancing its intelligence and information sharing with Turkey and that she had begun talking with the Turkish leaders about longer term solutions.

“The United States is committed to redoubling its efforts, because we need a comprehensive approach to this problem...” she said. “No one should doubt the United States in this situation.”

Iraq must help, Rice says
Rice added that the U.S. would also put more pressure on the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to crack down on the Kurdish rebels operating from the north of his country.

“We want to look to a plan for effective action against the PKK that will require not just the U.S. and Turkey but also the Iraqi government,” Rice said.

“That is a discussion, I plan to have when I see Prime Minister al-Maliki later on today,” she added.

Ahead of the talks with Babacan, Rice met with Erdogan, who heads to Washington for talks Monday with President Bush.

As Rice met with the officials, snipers kept watch from nearby buildings and more than 2,000 police officers patrolled the streets. Protesters held a small demonstration nearby, but no disturbances were reported.

200 protest in Istanbul
At a larger demonstration in Istanbul, about 200 marchers organized by the small Communist Party of Turkey chanted “Down with American imperialism” and “Get out Rice” as they carried an effigy of Rice and a sign saying “Unite against the United States.”

Kurdish rebel attacks against Turkish positions over the last month have killed 47 people, including 35 soldiers, according to government and media reports.

Many Turks are furious with the United States for its perceived failure to pressure Iraq into cracking down on the PKK, which operates from bases in the semiautonomous northern Kurdish region of Iraq. Street protesters have urged the government to send forces across the border even if it means a deepening of the rift with the U.S., their Cold War-era ally.

The PKK, which seeks more rights and autonomy for Turkish Kurds, is labeled a terrorist group by Europe and the United States.

Rice’s trip placed her in the breach between important NATO ally Turkey, the weak U.S.-backed government in Baghdad and the self-governing Kurds in Iraq’s oil-rich north.

Rice had said earlier that initial three-way cooperation could include better ways of sharing information or means to restrict the rebels’ movement. She did not rule out sanctions or other penalties on the PKK, but she did not address whether the Iraqis should pursue their own military raids.

“We’ll try to talk through the various elements of a strategy, but we really need to look for an effective strategy, not just one that is going to strike out somehow and still not deal with the problem,” she said.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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