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US Announces Talks with Turkey, Iraq On PKK Rebels

A top American diplomat is in Turkey, attempting to calm Turkish concerns over Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage has proposed three-way talks between Washington, Baghdad and Ankara to work out a plan to deal with Turkish Kurdish rebels based in northern Iraq. Some five thousand fighters from the group known as PKK/Kongra-Gel are holed up in the mountains separating Iraq from Iran.

Turkey has long lobbied Washington to take action against the rebels. American officials say the have not, so far, because US forces fighting an insurgency in Iraq are stretched too far to open a second front against PKK/Kongra-Gel.

Perceived U.S. foot dragging on the issue has raised tensions with NATO-ally Turkey.

Relations between Ankara and Washington further deteriorated when Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan referred to Iraqi insurgents as "martyrs" and when a Turkish member of parliament characterized the recent American offensive against the insurgent stronghold of Fallouja as "genocide."

Mr. Armitage is the highest-ranking American official to visit Turkey since President Bush visited the country in June. Emerging from talks with Mr. Armitage, Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said Turkey cherishes its relations with the United States "above all else."

During talks with Mr. Gul, the deputy secretary of state also discussed measures to protect Turkish truck drivers in Iraq. Some 80 Turkish truckers have been killed in separate attacks, so far.

Mr. Armitage also held talks with Turkish Parliament Speaker Bulent Arinc and the Chief of General Staff Hilmi Ozkok. Mr. Armitage stopped over in Turkey after a visit to Syria and Iraq.