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Turkey Steps Up Pressure as Iraq Conference Gets Underway


Turkey says it is ready to impose sanctions against Kurdish rebels and their supporters in a move likely to ratchet up pressure as an international meeting gets underway in Istanbul. The meeting is to discuss how to improve the situation in neighboring Iraq. VOA's Sonja Pace reports from Istanbul.

Turkish officials say that Ankara has approved economic sanctions against the Kurdistan Workers' Party, PKK and those who support the rebels, operating out of bases near the Turkish border inside Iraq. The sanctions could have serious consequences for the autonomous Kurdish administration in northern Iraq which Ankara accuses of providing a safe haven for the rebels.

Cross border trade between Turkey and Iraq is worth billions of dollars, and sanctions would also have dire economic consequences. Plus, Turkey is already threatening to launch a major military incursion into Iraq to rout Kurdish rebels unless the Iraqi authorities and the U.S. coalition forces in the area take decisive action.

Turkey analyst Fadi Hakura at the Chatham House research institute in London says Ankara is serious about its demands.

"I think the Turkish government is very, very serious. It wants to see visible, tangible and effective measures again the PKK, namely dismantle their camps, eliminate the sanctuary in the Kandil mountains of northern Iraq and should this not be accomplished, then a cross-border military incursion is more likely," said Hakura.

Hakura says Turkey might be satisfied with initial action by Iraq and the U.S. to disrupt supply lines to the PKK. He says without those supply lines it is doubtful PKK fighters could remain in the mountains, especially with the onset of winter.

In Baghdad Wednesday, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said the Kurdish regional authority has taken measures. He said these include more checkpoints along Iraq's northern border to keep fuel, food and other supplies from reaching the Kurdish rebels.

And, the U.S. Defense Department says it is providing Ankara with intelligence on Kurdish rebels that could enable the Turkish military to take action against them.

This comes as foreign ministers and representatives from Iraq, its neighbors, and major international powers including the United States gather in Istanbul for a meeting on how to improve and stabilize the situation in Iraq.

Iraqi officials have said this week's regional conference must focus on Iraq's security rather than on border tensions with Turkey.

But the PKK issue is likely to dominate the agenda and will be a top priority when Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayipp Erdogan meets with President Bush in Washington next week.

The U.S. is urging Turkey to exercise restraint. Turkish officials say no decision on an incursion into northern Iraq will be made until after Mr. Erdogan meets with President Bush on Monday.