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Gates Meets Turkish Defense Minister Sunday on Iraq Tension

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates will meet with Turkey's defense minister in Ukraine on Sunday to urge restraint in Turkey's desire to attack Kurdish insurgents based in Northern Iraq. The meeting will be one of the first items on the secretary's five-day visit to Europe, which will also involve talks on U.S. effort to install a part of its new missile defense system in Europe and on the need for more capability to support NATO-led operations in Afghanistan. VOA Pentagon Correspondent Al Pessin is traveling with the secretary, and filed this report shortly before their departure Saturday night.

The U.S. and Turkish ministers will have much to discuss during their scheduled half-hour meeting, including the Turkish government's request, approved by parliament last week, for permission to invade Northern Iraq to hunt for Kurdish guerrillas. Secretary Gates spoke about the issue during a news conference on Thursday.

"We call on Turkey to refrain from military action into Iraq that would create an international crisis, and further undermine stability in Iraq," said Gates.

Secretary Gates went on to say the U.S. and Iraqi governments would "do the appropriate thing" if they received specific information about the activities of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) [which is blamed for a series of deadly raids inside Turkey]. Iraqi officials have also been involved in intense, high-level diplomacy with Turkey about the issue.

Turkey is also concerned about a U.S. congressional resolution that would label the Turkish mass killing of Armenians early in the last century as "genocide." It now appears that the resolution may not pass, but Secretary Gates says, if it does, he has no doubt that Turkey will retaliate by cutting U.S. access to the key base at Incirlik. He has said that would have a significant impact on supplies flowing to U.S. forces in Iraq.

The other main focus of the secretary's trip will be NATO's lead security role in Afghanistan.

"One of the problems that we encountered is that, while we have 40 countries cooperating in Afghanistan to help Afghanistan, both in terms of security and in terms of development, not all of those countries have delivered on the commitments they made at Riga, at the NATO summit," he said.

Secretary Gates says that will be the "centerpiece" of his meetings with NATO defense ministers in Holland later in the week. He says the most pressing needs are for training teams for Afghanistan's army and police force. The American general in charge of the training program says he needs about 60 more teams, each with about 16 members. In addition, officials say, the NATO effort needs more airlift and fewer restrictions on the use of the forces it has.

Secretary Gates says NATO prevented a Taliban offensive during the spring. But he acknowledges violence has increased in Afghanistan this year, and he wants the NATO ministers to develop a long-term strategy.

"We need to look ahead and see what we're going to do over the next year or two to have a strategic plan that moves us in the right direction in terms of the security situation, but also better coordination of the economic and civil development part of the challenge," added Gates.

The NATO ministers are also expected to discuss progress reports from Albania, Croatia and Macedonia on steps they are taking to qualify for invitations to join the alliance.

Secretary Gates will also visit Prague during his trip for talks focused on the U.S. desire to put a sophisticated anti-missile radar in the country. It would be linked to an anti-missile launch site the United States wants to put in Poland. A senior U.S. defense official says negotiations over the Czech facility are ahead of schedule, and could be completed in time for construction to begin next year.

Russia is strongly opposed to the plan, and during a visit to Moscow earlier this month, Secretary Gates presented some secret proposals designed to ease Russian concerns. The U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity Friday said Russia had not yet responded to the ideas.

Secretary Gates will also meet with members of the Southeastern Europe Defense Ministers organization. The U.S. official who spoke Friday says the group will discuss possible future deployments of its joint force. The organization deployed about 100 troops to Afghanistan last years to provide headquarters services for the NATO-led operation there.