Gates in Ankara: No specific timetable to end N. Iraq operation
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he told his Turkish peer on Thursday that Turkey should end its offensive against Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq as soon as possible, but that the U.S. is making no threats against Ankara to comply. "The United States believes the current offensive should be as short and precisely targeted as possible," Gates said after a meeting with Turkish Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul.
According to the AP, Gates said that a specific timetable for the Turks to stop their attack "did not come up during my meeting with the defense minister," but he said before flying to Turkey that withdrawal should come in a matter of days, or weeks, rather than months. "The key is for us to make clear what our interests are, our concerns about the situation in Iraq," Gates said at a news conference with Gonul. "What is important is to serve both the interests of the United States and Turkey because I think we have shared interests.
"I think that those interests are probably not advanced by making threats or threatening to cut off intelligence," Gates added.
According to Gates, he told the Turkish defense minister that military action alone will not end the threat from the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, fighters.
Gates renewed his call for Turkey to go beyond military action in deadline with the PKK. "Military action alone will not end this terrorist threat," he said. "Simultaneous efforts should be made with nonmilitary initiatives. Economic programs and political outreach. That is the only way to isolate terrorists from the population and provide a long term solution to the problem."
He called on Ankara to engage in dialogue with Iraqi and Iraqi Kurdish leaders. "The key for all parties is transparency, cooperation and communication," Gates said.
On his part, Gonul said the Turks have no intention of disturbing civilian areas of Iraq or occupying any portion of Iraq. He said the main objective is to destroy the PKK network in Iraq and render the organization unusable. He said he believes doing that would contribute both to the security in Iraq as well as stability in the region.
"Turkey's government should make clear to the Iraqi government and everyone concerned exactly what their intentions are and the limited goals and scope of their operations," Gates said. "I believe there is a growing appreciation of the complexity of the situation of balancing the right of Turkey to defend itself with the need to maintaining Iraqi sovereignty and territorial integrity."
Gonul said Turkey would end its operation after reaching its goals. "It depends on winter conditions. If the mission is accomplished, we have no intention of staying there," Gonul said.