- The Washington Times - Monday, October 2, 2006

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, emerging from a lengthy Oval Office meeting with President Bush, warned yesterday that a surge of attacks by separatist Kurdish guerrillas based in neighboring Iraq have fueled anti-American sentiment in his country.

Mr. Erdogan, briefing reporters after the meeting, said he was reassured by Mr. Bush’s pledge to work with Turkish and Iraqi leaders to curb attacks by the Kurdistan Workers Party, known by the Turkish acronym PKK, the militant Kurdish separatist group that the United States has designated a terrorist organization.

Attacks inside Turkey blamed on the PKK have surged again after a long lull, with nearly 100 Turkish security officers killed in clashes with rebels in the first nine months of this year. The revelation that many of the PKK guerrillas use American-made arms has heightened anti-U.S. feeling in Turkey, Mr. Erdogan said.

“Terrorist organizations based in Iraq have been infiltrating into Turkey, as well as their arms,” Mr. Erdogan said, speaking through an interpreter. “When the Turkish people learned that some of these arms were American-made, sentiment against America has been created.”

Mr. Erdogan said Mr. Bush in their meeting “underlined he would do what he could to attack this problem.” He added, “I came out of the meeting more hopeful.”

The meeting between the two leaders went nearly twice as long as scheduled, but Mr. Bush did not mention the PKK and discussed terrorism only in general terms when the two leaders met later with reporters at the White House.

Ankara has pressed for the closing of PKK offices in Iraq and for tighter border controls. The U.S. government has warned Turkey against retaliatory attacks across the border in Iraq, fearing it could worsen the already tenuous security situation in Iraq.

Mr. Bush praised Turkey’s economic reforms under Mr. Erdogan’s moderate Islamist party’s leadership, and repeated the long-standing U.S. support for Turkey’s membership in the European Union.

Relations between the two NATO allies were badly strained by Turkey’s 2003 refusal to allow U.S. and coalition forces to use its territory as part of the staging area for the war that ousted Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Iraq’s Kurds, who dominate the northern area of the country on Turkey’s borders, have forged close ties with the United States while winning a large degree of autonomy from the central government in Baghdad.

Mr. Erdogan, who faces parliamentary elections within the year, said before his trip to Washington that he would push for “concrete steps” by the United States to curb Kurdish guerrilla activity in northern Iraq. Under U.S. pressure, an Iraqi-based PKK leader declared a “cease-fire” Saturday.

Mr. Erdogan said he also raised the question of the status of Kirkuk, an oil-rich city in Kurdish Iraq that also includes large numbers of Arabs and ethnic Turkmen, who have close ties to Turkey. He said he pressed Mr. Bush to consider a “special status” for Kirkuk, which Iraqi Kurds see as a potential capital, if Iraq should break up politically.

Joseph Curl contributed to this report.

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