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Gates tells Turks they need to get out of Iraq soon

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LOLITA C. BALDOR
February 28, 2008
— Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he told his Turkish counterpart on Thursday that Turkey should end its offensive against Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq as soon as possible, but that the U.S. is making no threats against its NATO ally if it fails to comply.

“The United States believes the current offensive should be as short and precisely targeted as possible,” Gates said after a meeting with Turkish Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul.


Gates said that a specific timetable for the Turks to stop their attack “did not come up during my meeting with the defense minister,” but he said before flying to Turkey that withdrawal should come in a matter of days, or weeks, rather than months.


“The key is for us to make clear what our interests are, our concerns about the situation in Iraq,” Gates said at a news conference with Gonul. “What is important is to serve both the interests of the United States and Turkey because I think we have shared interests.


“I think that those interests are probably not advanced by making threats or threatening to cut off intelligence,” Gates added.


Gates delivered his message in a face-to-face meeting with Gonul in advance of meetings with other top Turkish officials, including the prime minister and president.


Gates said he told the defense minister that military action alone will not end the threat from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, rebels that the Turks view as terrorists.


Gonul said the Turks have no intention of disturbing civilian areas of Iraq or occupying any portion of Iraq. He said the main goal is to destroy the PKK network in Iraq and render the organization unusable. He said he believes doing that would contribute both to the security in Iraq as well as stability in the region.


“Turkey’s government should make clear to the Iraqi government and everyone concerned exactly what their intentions are and the limited goals and scope of their operations,” Gates said. “I believe there is a growing appreciation of the complexity of the situation of balancing the right of Turkey to defend itself with the need to maintaining Iraqi sovereignty and territorial integrity.”


Gonul said Turkey would end its operation after reaching its goals.


“It depends on winter conditions. If the mission is accomplished, we have no intention of staying there,” Gonul said.


Gates renewed his call for Turkey to go beyond military action in deadline with the PKK.


“Military action alone will not end this terrorist threat,” he said. “Simultaneous efforts should be made with nonmilitary initiatives. Economic programs and political outreach. That is the only way to isolate terrorists from the population and provide a long term solution to the problem.”


He urged Turkey to engage in dialogue with Iraqi and Iraqi Kurdish leaders. Turkey has long suspected the Iraqi Kurd administration in the north of allowing the PKK, to operate and of ignoring calls for a crackdown on the group.


“The key for all parties is transparency, cooperation and communication,” Gates said.


Before arriving in Ankara, Gates told reporters traveling with him that he measured “quick” action by the Turks in Iraq “in terms of days, a week or two, something like that, not months.” Those remarks Wednesday in India were the first time that the Pentagon chief put any time limit on the Turkish incursion launched into Iraq last Thursday.


The Iraqi government has demanded that Turkey immediately withdraw from northern Iraq, warning Tuesday that it feared an ongoing incursion could lead to clashes with the official forces of the semiautonomous Kurdish region.


Turkish fighter jets, helicopters and hundreds of commandos streamed across the border into Iraq Wednesday despite the Iraqi and American calls to swiftly end the operation.


Gates was winding up an eight-day, four-country trip with his stop in Turkey and was returning to Washington later Thursday.



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