Turkey urged to show restraint on Iraq

 

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she had urged Turkey to refrain from any major military operation in northern Iraq.

Two senior US officials met Turkish officials in Ankara to try to ease strains after a Congressional resolution branded as genocide massacres of Armenians by Ottoman Turks in 1915.

Some analysts believe the vote could weaken Washington's influence on fellow NATO member Turkey and increase the likelihood of a Turkish incursion into northern Iraq to crush Kurdish rebels.

Ms Rice said she told the Turkish officials "that we all have an interest in a stable Iraq and that anything that is destabilizing is going to be to the detriment of both of our interests."

Turkish artillery fired seven to eight shells into a village in northern Iraq late yesterday, witnesses said. It was the latest bout of regular shelling of the mountainous border area where separatist guerrillas are believed to hide out.

The witnesses said the shells landed in a village, about 5 km (3 miles) from the Turkish border, in Dahuk province. No casualties or damage was reported.

Ms Rice acknowledged strains following the US Congressional committee vote on the Armenian massacres. The Bush administration would strive to stop it being approved by the full US Congress, she said

"It is a tough time," she told reporters. "It's not an easy time for the relationship and it was perfectly predictable."

In Ankara, US Assistant Secretary of State Dan Fried and Undersecretary of Defence Eric Edelman faced criticism from Turkish officials over the resolution. Turkey recalled its ambassador to the United States for consultations this week.

"We told him (Edelman) that if the resolution passed in the House it would lead to irreparable damage in our relationship with the United States," a high-level Turkish diplomatic source who attended the meeting told Reuters.

The source, who declined to be named, said Turkish-US cooperation within NATO would also be damaged.

Turkish diplomatic sources said Edelman had promised to remind Iraq of their obligations under the United Nations charter to protect their borders and fight terrorism.

The possibility of a major Turkish military incursion into northern Iraq is troubling to US officials, who fear this could destabilize a relatively peaceful area of Iraq.

Mr Edelman also held talks with deputy chief of general staff, General Ergin Saygun, a Turkish diplomat said.

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.