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US Presses for Turkish, Iraqi Cooperation on PKK

The United States is intensifying its efforts to put an end to terrorist acts perpetrated by the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK. The rebels operate out of the Kurdish-controlled hills of northern Iraq, launching raids and attacks into neighboring Turkey. President Bush recently appointed a special envoy to work with Turkey and Iraq in countering the rebels.

Earlier this month, President Bush appointed retired General Joseph Ralston to be his special envoy for countering the PKK. Ralston immediately set out on a visit to the region, where he met with senior Turkish, Iraqi and Kurdish officials. He says he used his visit to encourage cooperation.

"It is important for the United States government, the Turkish government and the Iraqi government to cooperate because this is something that is not going to be solved by any one of us alone," he said.

Before Ralston's appointment, Ankara had repeatedly complained that Washington was not doing enough to stop the rebels. Turkey has some two thousand troops inside northern Iraq, and in July, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he was considering sending in more soldiers to clear PKK bases there.

The United States has repeatedly warned Turkey against such an incursion, fearing it would destabilize one of the few quiet areas in Iraq. Iraq's president, Jalal Talabani, himself a Kurd, this week warned his neighbors that interference in internal Iraqi affairs would not be tolerated.

On Monday, Mr. Erdogan will meet President Bush at the White House. The Bush administration has said increased cooperation in the war on terror, including countering the PKK, will be on their agenda.

Recently, the PKK has intensified attacks inside Turkey, targeting civilians, tourists and Turkish troops. Last week, the PKK claimed responsibilty for a bomb attack near a police building in the eastern city of Igdir that wounded 17 people. The group also claimed another bombing that derailed a freight train in southeast Turkey.

Ralston told reporters that several steps need to be taken against the rebels, including stopping the flow of money to them and closing their offices in Iraq. He says all options are on the table, but a military option would be a last resort.

"We all believe that the use of force is the last resort, not the first resort, and that still is a guiding principle for all of us," he said. "But having said that, that does not mean we will not take military action; quite the contrary, all options are on the table."

Ralston dismissed Turkish media reports that implied he would be meeting with representatives of the PKK, saying the United States does not meet with terrorist groups.

While in Iraq, Ralston said he told Iraqi officials it is unacceptable that their territory should be a safe haven for Kurdish rebels. He said if the violence stops, economic ties between the two countries, which are already good, could flourish.

"Turkey is the best possible friend that Iraq could have in that neighborhood; there is no question about that," he noted. "And the economic interests between Iraq and Turkey are critical for both Iraq and Turkey."

Ralston says he believes all factions in Iraq understand the PKK problem is a serious one and have agreed that strong measures must be taken.