- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 8, 2005

President Bush yesterday rejected a request by Turkey for U.S. forces to crack down on Kurdish militants who are launching attacks against Turkey from northern Iraq.

The rejection came two years after Turkey blocked U.S. troops from opening a northern front against Iraq along the same stretch of border now being traversed by Kurdish fighters.

Asked about the Kurds, who are seeking to create an autonomous region in southeast Turkey, Bush spokesman Scott McClellan emphasized: “We are committed to going after and getting rid of terrorists who are inside Iraq.”

But Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed his disappointment after meeting with Mr. Bush in the Oval Office.

“We are exchanging information,” he told reporters after leaving the White House. “However, we don’t think it is sufficient. We want [U.S. assistance] to be taken further.

“However, they seem to be focused on getting the Iraqi administration there settled,” he added. “God willing, we will get the support of the coalition forces and of the Iraqi forces for this struggle.”

The attacks against Turkey are being waged by the Kurdistan Workers Party, commonly known as the PKK, which the U.S. considers a terrorist organization.

“They did talk about the importance of continuing to fight terrorism, and [that] includes going after the PKK inside Iraq,” Mr. McClellan said. “The two leaders had a good discussion about how we can move forward to address the threat from the PKK.”

The PKK operates across the same Turkish-Iraqi border that Mr. Bush wanted to use in March 2003 as a way to open a northern front in Operation Iraqi Freedom. But the Turkish parliament refused to allow the 4th Infantry Division to set foot on Turkish soil, which limited the U.S. to attacking Iraq from the south.

“The past three years have involved a serious disappointment in the U.S.-Turkish relationship,” Deputy Secretary of State Robert B. Zoellick told Turkish officials in Washington on Tuesday.

The relationship is being further strained by Turkey’s growing ties with Syria at a time when Damascus is allowing terrorists to move back and forth across its own border with Iraq in order to fight U.S. forces. Mr. Erdogan praised Syria for capturing Kurdish rebels and sharing intelligence on the PKK.

“We don’t want to push Syria away,” Mr. Erdogan told reporters. “We talked about steps we can take to bring them to our line.”

But Mr. Zoellick said Turkey should help Syria “recognize that fostering danger with Iraq today is going to rebound to hurt Syria for the long term, because Iraq is on the path up.

“And it will remember those that worked with it,” he added, “and those that tried to stop it.”

Despite these difficulties, the U.S. continues to back Turkey’s ambitions for membership in the European Union. But in the wake of France and the Netherlands voting down the EU constitution, Mr. Zoellick said Turkey should “look beyond the European Union to a global context.”

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