Turkey today insisted that any cross border raid into Iraq would be a military operation and not an invasion.
Minister for Foreign Afffairs Ali Babacan said a meeting on Monday between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Bush “will determine the steps that Turkey would take".
However, if Turkey does send its troops into Iraq to deal with Kurdish rebels hiding there, “any cross-border attack would be aimed at hitting terrorist bases and would not be an invasion,” he said.
Hit-and-run raids by the rebels and other fighting have left 47 people dead on the Turkish side since the beginning of last month, including 35 soldiers.
There are fears that a Turkish cross-border campaign would bring chaos to one of the few relatively stable areas in Iraq.
It would also put the US in an awkward position with key allies: Nato-member Turkey, the Baghdad government and the self-governing Iraqi Kurds in the north.
Washington has been pressing Turkey for restraint, while pushing for more action by Iraqi Kurds to crack down on rebel bases.
“We, of course, would not want Turkey to launch its own military operations across the border because obviously there are troubles enough in Iraq,” US Under-secretary of State Nicholas Burns said today.
“We would like to see that prevented, but it is absolutely imperative that steps be taken to prevent such PKK attacks in the future.”
Mr Babacan indicated growing frustration with the government of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, accusing it of doing nothing to deal with the rebels.
“We have doubts about the sincerity of the administration in northern Iraq in the struggle against the terrorist organisation.
“We want to see solid steps – we hope our points of contact understand the seriousness of this job,” he said.
He also said some economic measures aimed at rebels of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, in northern Iraq have already been put in place, and Turkey is also considering stopping flights to the region.
Iraq’s Kurdish region has relied heavily on Turkish food imports as well as Turkish investment in construction works and Turkish electricity, which accounts for 10% of its power use.
The border crisis is already taking its toll, with commercial flights between Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan reportedly cancelled and some Turkish companies scaling back or delaying investment plans there.
It is not clear, however, what impact economic sanctions would have on the PKK, a guerrilla group operating out of remote mountain bases with little reliance on conventional supply routes.
“They are carefully evaluated and aimed at the economic resources of the terrorist organisation and those who give support to it, and some measures have already been put in place,” Mr Babacan said.
“We are not going to announce them, but will implement them when needed. We have all kinds of options on the table against the PKK right now.”