TEHRAN, Iran – Iran's foreign minister accused the U.S. and Israel of supporting Kurdish separatists in northern Iraq, but his Turkish counterpart distanced himself from the claim, saying he didn't think Washington was behind the Iraq-based rebels but stressed that Ankara would do what was necessary to stop them.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told reporters in Tehran at a news conference Sunday with Ali Babacan, Turkey's foreign minister, that "terrorist activities" have increased in northern Iraq since "foreign forces" arrived there.
"From our point of view, efforts by Israel and the U.S. are behind some terrorist activities. Most probably, some secret agreements have caused a lack of confrontation against terrorism," Mottaki said, referring to Iraq-based Kurdish rebels.
"We hope this part of the U.S. policy would be corrected," he said.
But Babacan, who was in Iran to lobby for support for the Turkish side in its conflict with the rebel Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, expressed gratitude for Iran's cooperation but did not back Mottaki's accusations against the U.S. and Israel, which are allies of Ankara.
"I don't like to think that the U.S. supports a terrorist group," Babacan said.
Later Sunday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also criticized the U.S. role in Iraq during his meeting with Babacan, the state-run IRNA news agency reported.
"Occupiers (of Iraq) endanger the security of nations of the region," IRNA quoted Ahmadinejad as saying, apparently referring to the U.S. "Enemies do not like the countries of Iran, Turkey and Iraq to be powerful, peaceful and safe."
Both Ahmadinejad and Mottaki pledged support for Turkey against the PKK but did not provide specific details.
"The root of terrorist activities should be uprooted through the cooperation of nations of the region," said Ahmadinejad. "The destiny of all of us is tied together. We have to protect the interests of each other.
The Turkish foreign minister stressed that Turkey would use whatever means necessary to combat the PKK.
"Turkey in fighting against terrorism and will use and support all mechanisms," Babacan said. "International cooperation and solidarity is the only way to fight terrorism."
Babacan's comments echoed those of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who on Saturday said Turkey will fight the Iraq-based Kurdish rebels when it is needed, regardless of international pressure. Erdogan said he would not be constrained by other nations — despite concerns from the United States, Iraq and other countries that an incursion would destabilize northern Iraq.
On Saturday, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki received a phone call from Ahmadinejad, and they both agreed on the necessity to confront the "terrorist activities" of the PKK, saying the violence harms the interests of Iraq, Turkey and Iran.
"Both presidents have affirmed that the military action is not the only solution in dealing with this crisis that should be solved through peaceful means," al-Maliki's office said in a statement.
The conflict in southeastern Turkey between government forces and guerrilla fighters has claimed nearly 40,000 lives since 1984. PKK fighters have killed at least 42 people in the past month, including some 30 Turkish soldiers killed in ambushes.
In recent months, Turkey has demanded more action from the U.S. and Iraq in the fight against the PKK — which Washington and the European Union have labeled a terrorist group. The sharp escalation in the fighting has brought Turkey to the brink of sending troops south across the border into Iraq.
Iran has its own problems with Kurdish opposition groups, particularly the Party of Free Life of Kurdistan, known by its Kurdish initials PEJAK.
An offshoot of the PKK, PEJAK is struggling for autonomy for Iran's Kurds due to alleged government discrimination, and the mountainous Iran-Iraq border region has been the scene of sporadic clashes between PEJAK guerrillas and Iranian forces in recent years.
PEJAK and PKK bases in Iraq's Mount Qandil region, right on the border with Iran and Turkey, have long been a sore point in relations between the three countries.
Babacan also has visited several Arab countries in recent weeks to gauge their support for a Turkish offensive into northern Iraq.
Both Egypt and Jordan have cautioned Turkey against unleashing a military offensive against the rebels and urged dialogue. Alone among Arab countries was Syria, an Iranian ally which has come out in support of Turkey.