CAIRO: Turkey s foreign minister held talks with the Egyptian president on Thursday to explain his government s plan to send troops into northern Iraq to fight Kurdish guerrilla groups.
Foreign Minister Ali Babacan said his country was drawing up the plan after long attempting to work with the US and Iraqi governments to resolve the problem of Kurdish guerrillas who use northern Iraq as a rear base to attack Turkish territory.
We have previously made a lot of efforts to reach a common stance with the US and Iraqi central government to curb terror, but we have failed to approach a solution to this problem, and it has even grown bigger, Babacan told reporters after meeting with President Hosni Mubarak.
There was no immediate comment by Egyptian officials on the talks.
While Syria has said it is Turkey s right to take action against the guerrillas, other Arab governments have said little on the potential for Turkish military action in Iraq. Arabs generally oppose any infringement on a fellow Arab state s sovereignty, but they also have little sympathy for Kurdish separatists and many in the region are suspicious of the Kurdish autonomous government in northern Iraq, fearing it aims to become independent.
Kurdish separatists from the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, have bastions in the mountainous areas across the Iraqi-Turkish frontier. They have been fighting since 1984 for autonomy in Turkey s Kurdish-dominated southeast, a conflict that has claimed tens of thousands of lives.
On Wednesday, Turkish parliament authorized the government to send troops into northern Iraq to hunt down Kurdish rebels. The vote removed the last legal obstacle to an offensive, but there was no sign of imminent action as the United States urged restraint.
Turkey s government moved to explain its decision to its Arab neighbors, sending Babacan to Lebanon and Egypt, a top US ally in the Arab world.
Babacan said Turkey respects Iraqi sovereignty. Our problem is with terrorism and its members, and our goal is to counter terror, he told reporters.
Combating terror will be carried out according to cooperation with the US administration and the Iraqi government, he said.
Any Turkish cross-border attack on the guerrilla could strain ties with Washington, a Nato ally. Though the US has classified the PKK as a terrorist organization, it is urging Turkey not to invade northern Iraq, fearing this would destabilize the autonomous Kurdish region in the north, which is one of the country s few relatively stable areas. The Kurds are longtime US allies.
An offensive could also undermine Turkey s relations with the European Union, which has pushed Turkey to treat its minority Kurds better.