WASHINGTON–U.S. President George W. Bush on Tuesday said the United States would continue to help Turkey fight Kurdish guerrillas along its border with Iraq but also urged Ankara to find a long-term political solution to the problem.
During a White House visit by Turkish President Abdullah Gul, Bush praised Turkey as a model for democracy in the Muslim world and said it should be admitted to the European Union as a â€œconstructive bridgeâ€ to the Islamic world.
But White House officials said Bushâ€™s wide-ranging discussion with Gul also addressed the need for political reform and economic development in southeastern Turkey to stop the areaâ€™s Kurdish minority from providing fresh fighters for the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK.
â€œA common enemy is the PKK,â€ Bush told reporters on the White House lawn, where he appeared alongside the Turkish president. â€œItâ€™s an enemy to Turkey, itâ€™s an enemy to Iraq and itâ€™s an enemy to people who want to live in peace. The United States, along with Turkey, are confronting these folks and we will continue to confront them.â€
Added Gul: â€œWe are working against our common enemy, the PKK. And we have once again underlined the importance of our cooperation.â€
White House officials said Turkey has shown restraint in its military response to attacks by the PKK and called on Ankara to seek open dialogue with Iraq to resolve problems along the two countriesâ€™ border.
Turkey, which has been waging an aerial bombing campaign against PKK positions in northern Iraq, blames the rebels for the deaths of nearly 40,000 people since 1984 when the PKK took up arms to fight for an ethnic homeland in southeastern Turkey.
The United States and European Union, like Turkey, classify the PKK as a terrorist organization.
Turkey has as many as 100,000 troops along its mountainous border with Iraq and has carried out military operations with assistance from U.S. intelligence.
A senior administration official said the two leaders discussed the need to expand the struggle against the PKK beyond military action.
â€œMilitary rule would be one part of dealing with this terrorist threat. And working politically and improving the lives of the Kurds within Turkey to make sure that there isnâ€™t a disaffected minority that would be a recruiting pool for the PKK is also part of a long-term solution to that issue,â€ said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Bush did not offer Gul assistance beyond the military and intelligence cooperation agreed on last November, the official said.
Bush also called for the NATO allyâ€™s admission to the European Union as a step that would aid peace.
â€œI strongly believe that Europe will benefit when Turkey is a member of the European Union,â€ Bush said at the meeting, intended to demonstrate improved U.S.-Turkish relations after years of tensions over Iraq and other issues.
â€œI view Turkey as a bridge between Europe and the Islamic world, a constructive bridge. And so I believe itâ€™s in the interests of peace that Turkey be admitted into the EU,â€ Bush added.
Tuesdayâ€™s meeting marked Gulâ€™s first visit to Washington as president. He and Bush had lunch afterward.
(Additional reporting by Caren Bohan; Editing by Bill Trott)