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Condoleezza Rice promises Turkey help in fight against Kurdish rebels

Condoleezza Rice, U.S. Secretary of State, called Kurdish rebels based in northern Iraq a "common threat" to the U.S., Iraq and Turkey, and she pledged an intensified effort by Washington to help confront the guerrillas.

"We consider this a common threat, not just to the interests of Turkey but to the interests of the United States as well ..." Rice said at a joint news conference with Turkey's foreign minister, Ali Babacan. "This is going to take persistence and it's going to take commitment - this is a very difficult problem."

Washington worries that a cross-border incursion by Turkey would bring instability to what has been the calmest part of Iraq, and could set a precedent for other countries, like Iran, which also have conflicts with Kurdish rebels.

But Ankara has been resolute in saying that if the United States does not take concrete measures against the rebel Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, Turkey will launch an attack.

"We have great expectations from the United States. We are at the point where words have been exhausted and where there is need for action," Babacan said.

But he also signaled that Turkey might be willing to consult with Washington before moving ahead with a cross-border attack on the rebels.

"We hold a common view about taking up all problems together and creating solutions for them," Babacan said.

Rice said the U.S. was looking at enhancing its current intelligence and information sharing with NATO-ally Turkey and that she had begun talking with Turkish leaders about longer-term solutions.

"The United States is committed to redoubling its efforts, because we need a comprehensive approach to this problem ..." she said. "No one should doubt the commitment of the United States in this situation."

She added that the U.S. would also put more pressure on the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to crack down on the Kurdish rebels operating from the north of his country.

"We want to look to a plan for effective action against the PKK that will require not just the U.S. and Turkey but also the Iraqi government," Rice said. "That is a discussion I plan to have when I see Prime Minister al-Maliki later on today."

Before the talks with Babacan, Rice met with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who heads to Washington for talks Monday with U.S. President George W. Bush.

As Rice met with the officials, snipers kept watch from nearby buildings and more than 2,000 police officers patrolled the streets. Protesters held a small demonstration nearby, but no disturbances were reported.

At a larger demonstration in Istanbul, about 200 marchers organized by the small Communist Party of Turkey chanted, "Down with American imperialism," and "Get out Rice," as they carried an effigy of Rice and a sign saying "Unite against the United States."

Kurdish rebel attacks against Turkish positions over the last month have killed 47 people, including 35 soldiers, according to government and media reports.

Many Turks are furious with the United States for its perceived failure to pressure Iraq into cracking down on the PKK, which operates from bases in the semiautonomous northern Kurdish region of Iraq. Street protesters have urged the government to send forces across the border even if it means a deepening of the rift with the U.S., their ally.

The PKK, which seeks more rights and autonomy for Turkish Kurds, is labeled a terrorist group by the European Union and the United States.

The Iraqi Kurds have warned Turkey against staging a cross-border offensive, saying they will defend their territory against any incursion and suggesting that Turkey's ulterior goal is to disrupt their virtual mini-state. Turkey is wary of getting bogged down in a conflict that could be militarily inconclusive and politically damaging for a country seeking to burnish its international image by joining the European Union.

Turkish leaders suspect, however, that the administration there is assisting the PKK, or at the very least tolerating its presence at a network of mountain camps.

After meetings in Ankara, Rice will travel to Istanbul for a conference on Iraq that is likely to be dominated by talk about the crisis on the Iraqi-Turkish border.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was also coming to Ankara Friday to meet Turkey's President Abdullah Gul. Ban will later travel to Istanbul to attend the international conference on Iraq on Saturday.

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