WASHINGTON President Bush pledged Monday to increase intelligence cooperation with Turkey in its fight against Kurdish rebels, hoping to head off any significant Turkish military operation in Iraq.
Meeting in the White House with Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Bush declined to say how the United States would respond if Turkish forces entered northern Iraq, dismissing it as a hypothetical question that, he said, Erdogan himself had asked.
Instead, Bush promised that the American and Turkish militaries allies in NATO would work together to fight the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, which he called "an enemy of Turkey, a free Iraq and the United States of America."
"I can tell you that we he asked what would my reaction be if there was an attack," Bush said, sitting beside Erdogan in the Oval Office. "Well, that's a hypothetical question. But what we did talk about is to make sure that there is good enough intelligence so that we can help deal with a common problem, and that problem is a terrorist organization called PKK."
A White House official said that the United States and Turkey already shared significant amounts of intelligence about the Kurdish rebels, who use the mountains of northern Iraq, part of the historic Kurdish homeland, as a base for raids into Turkey.
Those raids have increased, including an attack last month that killed 12 Turkish soldiers, raising the specter of a conflict between Turkey and Iraq that could leave American forces in Iraq in an uncomfortable spot in the middle.
Bush's pledges underscored the urgency of the administration's efforts to head off a Turkish attack, which Turkey's parliament has already voted to authorize.
Since then, the Bush administration has strongly and publicly opposed a congressional resolution declaring the mass killings of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire in World War I as genocide, a sensitive issue for Turkey. It has also pressed Iraqi leaders, including Prime Minister Nouri Kamal al-Maliki, to do more to crack down on the Kurdish rebels.
On Saturday, after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met in Istanbul with Erdogan and al-Maliki, the Iraqi authorities shut down the offices of a political party affiliated with the PKK.
The White House has also not publicly objected to what American officials have called limited strikes against Kurdish positions in northern Iraq.
Before the White House meeting, Erdogan struck a skeptical note, indicating in an appearance at the National Press Club that he had not yet ruled out more aggressive steps.
"Turkey has no patience left to deal with mechanisms which have been dragging over time, which were tried but did not yield any results," he said. "Turkey expects from the United States and the central Iraqi government concrete and urgent steps which will put a final end to PKK terrorism emanating from northern Iraq."