BUSH, GUL TO TACKLE KURDISH FIGHTER ISSUE

Agence France Presse
Jan 8 2008

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States on Tuesday pressed Turkey to
work with Iraqi leaders to craft a "long-term political solution"
aimed at ending years of attacks by Iraq-based Kurdish rebels on
Turkish targets.

US President George W. Bush was to encourage Turkish President Abdullah
Gul, here for fence-mending talks, to continue talks on the issue
with the Baghdad government, said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino.

Pointing to the bloody, two-decade campaign by the outlawed separatist
Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), Perino told reporters: "This has been
going on for so long that it's time to put a stop to it."

Bush was to urge Gul to work with Iraq's President Jalal Talabani and
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki "on a long-term political solution,"
Perino told reporters, citing an "opportunity" to move ahead on such
an arrangement.

Asked whether Washington was proposing any specific options, Perino
replied: "No, I think that we just would encourage an open dialogue,
which they have had over the past couple of months.

"It's sometimes been in fits and starts, but overall they have good
cooperation so we'll encourage that. Obviously, one of the goals
would be to establish a longer-term solution," she said.

Asked whether the PKK -- branded a terrorist group by the European
Union, Turkey and the United States -- would have a seat at the table,
Perino replied: "I don't know whether they talk to terrorists.

I know that we do not."

It was unclear whether the talks would include representatives of
Iraq's northern Kurdish region.

Turkey's military has confirmed three air strikes conducted with US
intelligence assistance against the PKK in Iraq since December.

The group has waged a bloody campaign for Kurdish self-rule in
southeast Turkey since 1984. The conflict has claimed more than
37,000 lives.

Bush and Gul were to make a joint public appearance after their
meeting, then head into the White House residence for lunch, US
officials said.

The US president was also expected to reaffirm his support for Turkey
to get European Union membership, discuss the situations in Afghanistan
and Pakistan, as well his efforts to revive Middle East peace talks,
said Perino.

Asked what Washington could do to help Ankara with EU accession,
Perino said that Turkey faced reform requirements to become a member
and that the United States would "encourage them to move forward on
those reforms."

The United States has warmly backed those aspirations, despite
resistance from some EU powerbrokers such as France.

And with Bush seeking to revitalize Middle East peace talks, Turkey's
influence with Israel and Arab states will also figure in Gul's
Washington talks, as will Iran's nuclear ambitions, according to the
State Department.

It will be Gul's debut trip to Washington since the mildly Islamist
politician took over as Turkey's president in August.

Since then, Turkish opinion has been inflamed by deadly cross-border
attacks from northern Iraq by the separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party
(PKK), and by a push in the US Congress to accuse the old Ottoman
Empire of "genocide."

But on both fronts, Turkey's government has grounds for satisfaction
as the two presidents bid to reinvigorate the oft-strained partnership
between the United States and its Muslim-majority NATO ally.

At a November meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Recept Tayyip
Erdogan, Bush promised real-time US intelligence on PKK guerrilla
movements across the mountainous border between Turkey and Iraq,
and acquiesced to Turkish air raids on rebel redoubts, according to
US officials.

Turkish leaders are also happy with the waning of the campaign in
the US House of Representatives to label the World War I slaughter
of ethnic Armenians by Ottoman troops as "genocide."