WASHINGTON – President Bush on Monday pledged fresh help to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in fighting Kurdish rebels, declaring them "an enemy of Turkey, a free Iraq and the United States."
In an Oval Office session, Bush offered intelligence sharing to help combat the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK. Bush also said top military figures from the United States and Turkey would be in more regular contact in an effort to track the movement of the guerrilla fighters.
"I made it very clear to the prime minister that we want to work in a close way to deal with this problem," Bush told reporters.
With Turkish troops massed on the border of his country, Erdogan is weighing a major cross-border attack against the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, rebels in northern Iraq. The guerrillas have killed more than 40 Turks in the past month in cross-border raids, and pressure is growing on Erdogan to hit back.
The White House worries that a Turkish incursion into Iraq could bring instability to what has been the calmest part of Iraq and could set a precedent for other countries, such as Iran, that have conflicts with Kurdish rebels.
Yet, when asked about the possibility of Turkey attacking Iraq, Bush dismissed the question as hypothetical.
He tried instead to assure Turkey that the U.S. is providing support.
"It's fine to speculate about what may or may not happen," Bush said. "But nothing can happen until you get good intelligence. We need to know where people are hiding, and we need to know what they're doing."
It is widely thought that the bulk of the PKK forces -- which traditionally halt operations in the winter because of supply and logistical difficulties -- had scattered as far as southern Iraq, as well as melting into the populations of large cities in the north.
Erdogan said in advance of meeting Bush that he was expecting the talks here to result in "solid steps" from the U.S. Their meeting came a day after the PKK released eight soldiers it had been holding for two weeks since their capture in an ambush inside Turkey along the Iraqi border.
Bush noted that Erdogan's government had consulted the U.S. about getting the soldiers released.
"There is at least one effective measure for people in Turkey to see, that when we work together, we can accomplish important objectives," Bush said.