NEW DELHI – Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Wednesday that he will tell Turkish leaders they need to wrap up their military operations in northern Iraq quickly, and that the ongoing assault must not last longer than a week or two.
Gates, who leaves New Delhi for Ankara Wednesday afternoon, also said he will call on Turkey to address some of the complaints of the Kurds, and move from combat to economic and political initiatives to solve the problems.
"It's very important that the Turks make this operation as short as possible and then leave. They have to be mindful of Iraqi sovereignty," said Gates, adding, "I measure quick in terms of days, a week or two, something like that, not months."
It was the first time that Gates put any time limit on the incursion, which Turkey launched the into northern Iraq last Thursday against separatist rebels from the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK. The rebels are fighting for autonomy in the largely Kurdish region of southeastern Turkey, and have carried out attacks from northern Iraq.
Gates had a similar message of rapid action for the Indian government here, saying that they need to move quickly to approve a landmark nuclear cooperation pact between India and the United States.
"The clock is ticking in terms of how much time is available to get all the different aspects of this agreement implemented," he told reporters.
On Turkey, Gates said he has not heard from the Turks on how long they intend to continue the attacks, and he said he does not know if the U.S. would consider halting its intelligence assistance to the Turks if it goes on too long.
He also said it is critically important for the Turks to communicate closely with the Iraqi government as well as the semiautonomous Kurdish leaders in northern Iraq. And he repeated contentions he made earlier this week, that military action alone will not solve the problems there.
"There certainly is a place for security operations, but these also need to be accompanied with economic and political initiatives that begin to deal with some of the issues that provide a favorable local environment where the PKK can operate," Gates said. "They need to address some of the issues and complaints that some of the Kurds have and move this in a nonmilitary direction in order to get a long term solution."
Gates said that since the U.S. provides intelligence and surveillance help to the Turks, other help might also be possible for economic and other efforts.
"If we can play a constructive role in some of these other areas and the Turks would like our help, we certainly ought to give that consideration," he said.
The Iraqi government demanded for the first time that Turkey immediately withdraw from northern Iraq, warning Tuesday it feared an ongoing incursion could lead to clashes with the official forces of the semiautonomous Kurdish region.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the operation would only end "once its goal has been reached."
Gates, who is wrapping up two days in New Delhi as part of an eight-day, around-the-world trip to four countries, spoke at length about the improving relations between India and the U.S. But while noting the U.S. must be respectful of local Indian politics, he said New Delhi must act soon on the nuclear pact to give the U.S. Senate time to ratify it.
Talks between the two countries have stalled on the nuclear deal, which would allow the U.S. to send nuclear fuel and technology to India. The agreement would reverse decades of U.S. anti-proliferation policy with a country that has tested nuclear weapons and refused to sign nonproliferation treaties.
U.S. officials, including the U.S. ambassador to India, have said the agreement would allow India to conduct nuclear tests, and in return New Delhi would separate its military and civilian reactors, and allow international inspections at the civilian ones.
Officials from both countries -- including some members of Congress and India's communist parties -- have expressed opposition to the pact. Some Indians worry that it would exert U.S. influence over their country's foreign policy, while U.S. officials are concerned it could boost India's nuclear bomb stockpile.
Gate said he also talked to Indian leaders about New Delhi's plan for a $10 billion fighter jet purchase -- which features bids from major U.S. defense contractors Boeing Corp. and Lockheed Martin.
"I indicated that we obviously are interested and believe that we are very competitive in the selection of the new fighter," Gates said. "And that we ask no special treatment, we simply are pleased to have a place at the table and we believe that in a fair competion that we have a very good case to make."
U.S. officials have warned that it would be naive to expect a decision on the fighter bids to come quickly, and that Indian elections projected for next year are likely to influence the pace of the process.
Already India has agreed to buy six of Lockheed's C-130J Hercules airlift aircraft, for roughly $1 billion.