ANKARA, Oct 13 (Reuters) Two senior US officials flew to Turkey today to try to defuse growing tension between the two NATO allies with Washington fearful that Ankara may launch a military incursion into northern Iraq to crush Kurdish rebels.
Ties are under strain after a US congressional resolution branded as genocide massacres of Armenians by Ottoman Turks in 1915. Some analysts believe the vote could weaken Washington's ''restraining'' influence on Turkey and make a military move into northern Iraq more likely in coming weeks.
US Assistant Secretary of State Dan Fried and US Undersecretary of Defense Eric Edelman flew from Moscow where they had been accompanying Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
CNN Turk television reported Edelman as saying on his arrival he was visiting Turkey to express his regret over the approval of the resolution.
The two are likely to hear sharp criticism from the Turkish government, which this week recalled its ambassador to the United States for consultations and said relations had been endangered by the resolution.
They are also likely to bring up the issue of Iraq as the Turkish government is to seek approval from parliament next week for a major operation against Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants based in the mountains of northern Iraq.
''They (US officials) are sure to raise the northern Iraq issue, but from our perspective the top issue is the Armenian resolution,'' a Turkish diplomat told Reuters.
The House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee approved on Wednesday a resolution labelling the 1915 killings genocide. Turkey denies genocide but says many died in inter-ethnic fighting.
CONFERENCE CANCELLED Turkish officials say foreign ministry and military officials met after the resolution was approved to discuss potential measures against the United States.
In initial repercussions, a US visit by Trade Minister Kursad Tuzmen was cancelled, along with a conference being held by the Turkish-US Business Council in the United States.
Other potential moves may include blocking US access to Incirlik air base, cancelling procurement contracts, downscaling bilateral visits, denying airspace to US aircraft, and halting joint military exercises, analysts and diplomats say.
The United States relies heavily on Turkish bases to supply its war effort in Iraq, where more than 160,000 US troops are trying to restore stability more than four years after the invasion that toppled former dictator Saddam Hussein.
Ankara has long complained Washington has not done enough on its own or through the Iraqi government to crack down on PKK rebels who use northern Iraq as a base to attack Turkey.
The PKK said yesterday its guerrillas were crossing back into Turkey to target politicians and police after the prospect of a cross-border military operation emerged.
Turkey blames the PKK for the deaths of more than 30,000 people since the group launched its armed struggle for an ethnic homeland in southeast Turkey in 1984.
The possibility of a major Turkish military incursion into northern Iraq is troubling to US officials, who fear this could destabilise a relatively peaceful area of Iraq.
The presence of Edelman, who was with Fried in Moscow for a meeting of the US and Russian foreign and defense ministers, may aim to appeal to the Turkish military, a highly influential institution in the mostly Muslim but secular nation. Edelman was US ambassador to Turkey from July 2003 to June 2005.
REUTERS GL BST1821