ANKARA, Turkey Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he told Turkish leaders on Thursday that Ankara should end its offensive against Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq as soon as possible, but that the U.S. made no threats to pull intelligence support for the operation if its NATO ally fails to comply.
"I think they got our message," Gates told reporters following his talks with Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other leaders, including the president and the minister of defense.
Still, Gates said Turkish officials did not discuss any deadline and he did not know if they will end the operation in a week as he's asked.
"I stand by where I've been on this. And that is that they should wrap this thing up as soon as they can," Gates said, noting his meetings with Turkish officials did not change his mind.
"I think there was a real dialogue, we were both listening. ... I think the meetings were productive."
Gates said he pressed the Turks on three key points: that they need to continue and deepen their dialogue with the Iraqi government, which has strongly objected to the incursion; that they needed to be more open about the specifics of their operation, including the number of troops involved; and that they need to recognize that military means alone will not solve the problem.
Providing the Iraqis with more such details, he said, "would help correct a lot of mis-impressions and potential misunderstanding."
During a press conference with Turkish Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul, Gates said, "The United States believes the current offensive should be as short and precisely targeted as possible.
"The key is for us to make clear what our interests are, our concerns about the situation in Iraq," Gates said at the news conference. "What is important is to serve both the interests of the United States and Turkey because I think we have shared interests.
Asked whether he told the Turks that the United States would rescind its intelligence and surveillance assistance for the mission if the fighting dragged on, Gates responded: "I think that those interests are probably not advanced by making threats or threatening to cut off intelligence."
The ongoing fighting has put the United States in a touchy position as it is close allies with both Iraq and Turkey, and a long offensive along the border could jeopardize security in Iraq just as the U.S. is trying to stabilize the war-wracked country.
"It is a little awkward for us," Gates acknowledged, "because obviously we are concerned that progress and momentum keep going forward in Iraq, and by the same token Turkey is an important partner for Iraq as well."
Still, he said that after meetings with the Turkish president, prime minister, defense minister and military chief, he is convinced that the "size of the operation is probably proportionate" to the legitimate terrorist threat posed by the PKK based in northern Iraq.
Gates said he told the defense minister that military action alone will not end the threat from the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, rebels that the Turks view as terrorists.
Gonul said the Turks have no intention of disturbing civilian areas of Iraq or occupying any portion of Iraq. He said the main goal is to destroy the PKK network in Iraq and render the organization unusable. He said he believes doing that would contribute both to security in Iraq and stability in the region.
"Turkey's government should make clear to the Iraqi government and everyone concerned exactly what their intentions are and the limited goals and scope of their operations," Gates said.
Gonul said Turkey would end its operation after reaching its goals.
"It depends on winter conditions. If the mission is accomplished, we have no intention of staying there," Gonul said.
Gates renewed his call for Turkey to go beyond military action in dealing with the PKK.
"Military action alone will not end this terrorist threat," he said. "Simultaneous efforts should be made with nonmilitary initiatives, economic programs and political outreach. That is the only way to isolate terrorists from the population and provide a long-term solution to the problem."
He urged Turkey to engage in dialogue with Iraqi and Iraqi Kurdish leaders. Turkey has long suspected the Iraqi Kurd administration in the north of allowing the PKK to operate and of ignoring calls for a crackdown on the group.
"The key for all parties is transparency, cooperation and communication," Gates said.