By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
Oct. 17, 2007 - Diplomacy is the preferred method for solving the problem the Kurdish terrorist group known as the PKK poses to Turkey and Iraq, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said here today. The PKK – also known as the Kurdistan Workers' Party – has launched attacks against Turkey for a generation. The U.S. State Department has labeled the group a foreign terrorist organization.
The PKK has established safe havens in the mountains of Iraq near the Turkish border, in an area under the control of the Kurdish regional government. Turkey has threatened to send its army across the border after these terrorists.
Complicating the situation is a resolution before Congress to brand the 1915 murder of hundreds of thousands of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire as genocide. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has urged Congress not to pass that resolution, saying the passage of the legislation would alienate Turkey at a time when that country is allowing the U.S. military to use its facilities to keep American troops in Iraq supplied.
"We understand (the Turks) are angry, and we have urged them despite their anger to remember our long-standing alliance before they take any retaliatory action," Morrell said.
Morrell said more and more members of Congress appear to recognize that this is not the right time to be considering this legislation.
"If Turkey restricted our access to Incirlik (an air base in eastern Turkey) or to their airspace, this would certainly harm our efforts to supply our forces in Iraq and pose a threat to our national security," he said.
The Defense Department sent Eric Edelman, undersecretary of defense for policy and former U.S. ambassador to Turkey, to explain the situation in Congress to his opposite number in the Turkish government. But the situation on the border with Iraq is potentially more serious, Morrell said.
"We'd like to end all terrorist threats to everyone in Iraq, but there is only so much you can do at one time," the press secretary said. "We certainly have our hands full dealing with al Qaeda (in Iraq), dealing with extreme elements of Jaysh al Mahdi and the other extreme elements in Iraq. So that is where our efforts are concentrated at this time."
He said the U.S. government is sympathetic to the fact that Turkey is suffering PKK terrorist attacks, but the best way to deal with this threat is through diplomatic means.
"We have urged the Turks to show restraint," Morrell said. "We understand their frustration, we understand their anger, but we are urging them not to engage in cross-border operations."
The Turks clearly are frustrated and angry, Morrell said. "But I also do not think there is a great deal of appetite to take this next step," he added. "It would an enormous step. It would have enormous implications not just for us, but the Turks, and I don't think there is any rush to war for the Turks.
"They know how treacherous the terrain is, they know how dug-in the PKK is, and I don't think there is any willingness or desire to have to solve this through a cross-border incursion in this area," he continued. "I think, as frustrated as they are, they see as we do that the best way to deal with this is to keep the pressure on the PKK, on the Iraqis, on all of us to solve this problem diplomatically."