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Rice in Turkey to Discuss Kurdish Rebels, Iraq


US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice held talks in Ankara today (Friday) with Turkish leaders on how to counter Kurdish rebels, who've been launching attacks in southeastern Turkey from bases inside Iraq. Rice then takes part in an international conference on stabilizing Iraq, but as VOA's Sonja Pace reports from Istanbul, the rebel attacks are likely to dominate the meeting.

Secretary Rice said she was coming to Ankara to discuss an "effective strategy" to counter the threat posed by Kurdish rebels of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

The rebels have stepped up attacks in southeastern Turkey in recent weeks and the Turkish government is threatening to respond with a military incursion into northern Iraq to strike at rebel bases there.

The United States has urged restraint, fearing that such action would create chaos in one of the few stable areas of Iraq.

Speaking at a news conference in Ankara with her Turkish counterpart, Ali Babacan, Rice said the PKK is a common enemy.

"But no one should doubt the commitment of the United States to this issue because as I have underscored, this is not just a problem for Turkey, this is a problem for Iraq, this is a problem for the United States, and so we have a common enemy and we need a common approach to dealing with the problem that we find ourselves in," she said.

Rice also met in Ankara with Prime Minister Recep Tayipp Erdogan who travels to Washington for talks on the border issue with President Bush on Monday.

Rice attends an international meeting on Iraq in Istanbul. The conference brings together ministers and representatives from Iraq, Iraq's neighbors and other international powers.

Iraq analyst, Joost Hiltermann of the International Crisis Group tells VOA past meetings on how to stabilize Iraq have been disappointing.

HILTERMANN: "This is exactly what is at stake, the future of Iraq and so it is rather distressing to see how little progress has been made in these meetings."
PACE: "Is there any indication there's going to be progress here in Istanbul?"
HILTERMANN: "I have seen no indication at all."

Hiltermann says indications are that Turkey is seeking to focus attention on the situation along its border with Iraq and the PKK.

"I don't want to play it down - the importance of that issue, certainly to Turkey, but in the overall scheme of things where Iraq is going - this is a very minor and temporary issue," he added.

Turkish officials say they are ready to impose economic sanctions against anyone dealing with the PKK. They've said no decision on military action will be made until after Prime Minister Erdogan's talks with President Bush in Washington.

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