Rice promises Ankara "effective" action on PKK

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ANKARA, Nov 2 (Reuters) US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice today promised ''effective'' action against Kurdish rebels who have launched attacks on Turkey from northern Iraq, but she strongly urged Ankara itself to observe restraint.

Speaking en route for Turkey, Rice called the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) a ''common enemy'' but said its NATO ally should not undertake any action that could destabilise the situation in northern Iraq.

Rice arrived in Ankara for talks with Foreign Minister Ali Babacan, President Abdullah Gul as well as Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, who is going to Washington next week for talks with President George W Bush on how to tackle the PKK threat.

Ankara has warned it will carry out a major cross-border operation unless US and Iraqi authorities crack down on an estimated 3,000 PKK guerrillas who are using northern Iraq as a base to carry out deadly attacks in Turkey.

Turkey has sent 100,000 troops to the Iraqi border, backed by tanks, artillery and aircraft, ready for a possible military incursion. But Iraq and the United States have urged Ankara to refrain from a major operation.

''We have certainly been concerned that anything that would destabilise the north of Iraq is not going to be in Turkey's interests, it is not going to be in our interests and it is not going to be in the Iraqis' interests. That's been the reason for urging restraint,'' Rice told reporters before a refuelling stop in Shannon, Ireland.

''But we understand the need to do something effective against this PKK threat,'' she said, adding: ''The PKK is an enemy of the United States just like it is an enemy of the Turks.'' PRESSURE MOUNTING Erdogan is under huge pressure to act as the military and much of public opinion doubt Washington or Baghdad will crack down on the PKK and Iraqi Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani has little incentive to do so.

Turkish diplomats say the meeting with Bush will now be key to determining whether an incursion should take place or not.

''Effective action means action that can deal with the threat but that isn't going to make the situation worse,'' Rice said.

''We really need to look for an effective strategy and not just one that will strike out somehow and still not deal with the problem,'' she said, though she declined to detail what action Washington might undertake.

Analysts question Ankara's willingness to authorise a major incursion, saying Turkish leaders still hope their rhetoric will push U.S. and Iraqi authorities into acting against the PKK.

Rice indicated Washington might follow Ankara's lead and impose sanctions targeting the PKK separatists.

But she said short-term measures included better information-sharing with the Turks and making it harder for the PKK to move around in northern Iraq.

Turkey plans economic sanctions that would target the PKK and groups providing them with support in northern Iraq, a move Rice said the United States could follow.

Rice said measures on how to deal with the PKK would be discussed at a meeting between herself and ministers from Turkey and Iraq on the sidelines of an Iraq neighbours conference in Istanbul on Saturday.

''We have a common enemy. We are going to act as if we have a common enemy, which means that we are going to work with our Turkish allies and with the Iraqis,'' she said.

Rice is also set to meet Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in Istanbul and will press him as well as the Kurdish regional government (KRG) to do more to stop the PKK. Rice spoke last week by phone to Barzani and delivered the same message.

''I made the very clear point that the KRG needs to separate itself from the PKK in a very, very clear and rhetorical way and he (Barzani) assured me that they had no intention of harbouring the PKK, no intention of supporting the PKK, no intention of trying to do anything but root out terrorism in northern Iraq,'' said Rice.

Turkey accuses the KRG of providing shelter and support to PKK guerrillas in northern Iraq. Barzani denies these claims.

REUTERS RKM RK1445

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