ISTANBUL, Turkey – Acknowledging "a difficult time" in relations with Turkey, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Saturday appealed to the U.S. ally for restraint against Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq and in reaction to a genocide resolution in Congress.
The Bush administration sent two high-ranking officials to Turkey for talks Saturday with government leaders. Eric Edelman is undersecretary of defense for policy and was U.S. ambassador to Turkey from July 2003 to June 2005. Dan Fried is assistant secretary of state for European Affairs.
"It's a difficult time for the relationship," Rice told reporters during her trip to Russia.
U.S. officials said Friday there are about 60,000 Turkish troops along the country's southern border with Iraq. The U.S. military had not seen activity to suggest an imminent offensive against Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq.
But Turkey's parliament was expected to approve a government request to authorize an Iraq campaign as early as next week. The U.S. opposes a possible Turkish incursion into northern Iraq, which is one of the country's few relatively stable areas, and urged a diplomatic solution between Iraq and Turkey.
Kurdish rebels killed more than 15 Turkish soldiers in the past week and are blamed for an ambush that killed 12 people the week before. The government responded to the deaths by announcing tougher measures against the rebel Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK.
The preparations come amid concern by the U.S. about what effect the genocide resolution that passed a U.S. House committee this past week could have on supply routes the American military has used to move armored vehicles to troops in Iraq.
"I came here to express our regret (for the measure)," Edelman was quoted as saying by private CNN-Turk television. The officials were expected to discuss military plans against the rebels before leaving the country later Saturday.
At issue in the measure is the killing of up to 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks. Turkey denies that the World War I-era deaths constituted genocide and says the toll has been inflated. Turkey also contends the dead were victims of civil war and unrest that killed Muslims as well as the overwhelmingly Christian Armenians.
Rice said she spoke Friday by telephone with Turkey's president, prime minister and foreign minister about the resolution. "They were dismayed," she said.
In discussing their reaction to the resolution and activities of the PKK in northern Iraq, she said, "I urged restraint."
"The Turkish government, I think, is trying to react responsibly. They recognize how hard we worked to prevent that vote from taking place," the secretary added.
Turkey has recalled its ambassador to Washington for consultations and warned of serious repercussions if Congress passes the resolution.
"We'll continue to try to deal with anti-American sentiment that has been heightened by this vote," Rice said. "We'll keep working to try to prevent it from winning on the floor."
The House Foreign Affairs Committee approved the nonbinding measure by a 27-21 vote Wednesday, defying warnings by President Bush. The administration, led by Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, warned lawmakers that passage of the resolution could put U.S. troops in Iraq at risk.