Iraqi VP in Turkey as Vote on Incursion Looms

Turkey's premier indicated Tuesday that an offensive against Kurdish rebels based in northern Iraq would not immediately follow the expected go-ahead from Parliament to send troops across the border.

Oil prices surged more than $1 a barrel to new highs on Tuesday, amid the tensions that also threaten the flow of fuel and other supplies to American forces in Iraq.

"Whenever there is any escalation in political tensions in the Middle East, oil markets become concerned," said David Moore, a commodity strategist at the Commonwealth Bank of Australia in Sydney. "There is production and there are pipelines that people worry may be affected if there are any issues in Iraq."

Iraq urged Turkey not to resort to military options, dispatching the vice president to Ankara on Tuesday and calling for "a diplomatic solution" to end the tension.

Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, a Sunni Arab, was scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other senior officials. The Turkish Parliament was expected to approve a motion Wednesday allowing the government to order a cross-border attack over the next year.

"The passage of the motion in Parliament does not mean that an operation will be carried out at once," Erdogan said Tuesday. "Turkey would act with common sense and determination when necessary and when the time is ripe."

Erdogan called on Iraq and Iraqi Kurds to crack down on separatist rebels. He said the regional administration in northern Iraq should "build a thick wall between itself and terrorist organizations."

Erdogan said any action would only target the rebels and Turkey would respect Iraq's territorial integrity.

Ali al-Dabbagh, the spokesman for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, said the government would not tolerate violence from the separatist rebels, but he urged the Turks to "seek a diplomatic solution and not a military one in dealing with the terrorist threats that target it."

Washington has urged NATO-ally Turkey not to enter Iraq, fearing that unilateral Turkish military action could destabilize the autonomous Kurdish region in the north, which is one of the country's few relatively stable areas. The Kurds are a longtime U.S. ally.

An offensive could also undermine Turkey's relations with the European Union, which has pushed Turkey to treat its minority Kurds better.

But Turkey says some European countries tolerate the activities of PKK sympathizers and is frustrated with the perceived lack of U.S. support in the fight against the PKK.

"We have serious expectations from the U.S. administration on the issue," Egemen Bagis, a foreign policy adviser to Erdogan said Tuesday.

Turkey's frustration with the perceived lack of U.S. support in the fight against the PKK, branded as terrorists by Washington, has intensified because of another sensitive issue: the killing of up to 1.5 million Armenians in the final years of the Ottoman Empire.

A U.S. House panel approved a resolution last week labeling the killings as genocide, an affront to Turks who deny any systematic campaign to eliminate Armenians at that time. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she will schedule a vote soon on the resolution.

On Tuesday, however, a top Turkish official said the country should not punish the U.S. administration over the resolution, but instead should impose sanctions against Armenia for supporting the measure.

"Bush and his team should not be punished," Egemen Bagis, a foreign policy adviser to Erdogan, said on CNN-Turk television. "The reaction should be against Pelosi and her team."

Bagis noted that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates had lobbied against the measure.

In a televised speech on Tuesday, Erdogan compared the resolution to a "summary execution."

"Nobody has the right to judge Turkey like this," Erdogan said. "Those who dare confront an important country like Turkey will pay the price."

Turkey staged several incursions into Iraq in the 1990s, but they failed to stamp out rebel hideouts.

From Associated Press reports

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