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US, Turkey Pledge Closer Cooperation Against Kurdish Rebels

President Bush says he and Turkey's Prime Minister agree on the need to eliminate Kurdish rebels operating from northern Iraq. VOA's Michael Bowman reports from the White House, where Mr. Bush met Monday with the Turkish leader.

President Bush pledged to strengthen cooperation with Turkey in the fight against rebels of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, that have killed dozens of Turks in cross-border raids from northern Iraq. Mr. Bush spoke with reporters after an Oval Office meeting with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan that lasted well over an hour.

"The PKK is a terrorist organization," said President Bush. "They are an enemy of Turkey, they are an enemy of Iraq, and they are an enemy of the United States."

Specifically, Mr. Bush said the two nations will strengthen intelligence cooperation in tracking the movements and whereabouts of PKK fighters, saying the United States wants to work closely with Turkey to, in his words, "deal with this problem."

Prime Minister Erdogan endorsed the initiative, but reminded President Bush that Turkey retains the option of acting unilaterally against the PKK.

"As you know, on October 17, the Turkish parliament overwhelmingly gave an authority to our government - a mandate - to do a military cross-border incursion [into northern Iraq], if necessary."

Mr. Erdogan said the mandate specifies that only PKK rebels would be targeted, with civilians left alone. He suggested that intelligence sharing with the United States would be valuable if such an operation were to be undertaken.

President Bush was asked his views on that very possibility: that a Turkish military mission could be launched inside Iraq. Mr. Bush refused to comment on what he termed a hypothetical situation, but stressed that reliable intelligence would be the starting point for effectively dealing with the PKK, however it is accomplished.

The Bush administration clearly does not favor direct Turkish military engagement in northern Iraq, an area that has been among the most stable in the violence-plagued nation. Turkey is not alone in its grievances with militant segments of the region's large Kurdish population. Iran has also experienced conflicts with Kurdish rebels, and U.S. officials fear that a Turkish military operation in northern Iraq could tempt other nations to consider similar actions.

The Bush-Erdogan meeting came one day after the PKK released eight Turkish soldiers captured near the Iraqi border. President Bush noted close consultations between Washington and Ankara on the plight of the soldiers prior to their release, and pointed to it as an example of the two nations working together to achieve common objectives.