Bush presses Turkey not to invade Iraq

McClatchy NewspapersOctober 17, 2007 

WASHINGTON — President Bush said Wednesday that the White House is "making it very clear" to Turkey not to launch a cross-border military strike against Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq.

"We don't think it's in their interest to send more troops in," the president said at a morning news conference.

Shortly after Bush spoke, Turkey's Parliament overwhelmingly authorized the government to send troops across the border against the rebel Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, which the Turks say is staging raids into Turkey from Iraq's Kurdish region.

Though Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan noted that "what's important is the parliament's decision, not what people (like Bush) say," Bush expressed hope that a diplomatic solution could be found.

"What I am telling you is that there's a lot of dialogue going on, and that's positive," he said. "We are actively involved with the Turks and the Iraqis through a tripartite arrangement, and we'll continue ...dialoguing with the Turks."

Bush also had a message for Congress, which is considering a measure that would label as genocide Turkey's killing of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians as the Ottoman Empire was crumbling nearly 90 years ago. Turkey objects strongly to the resolution, considering it insulting. The Turks have threatened to retaliate by cooperating less with U.S. forces in the region.

"One thing Congress should not be doing," Bush said, "is sorting out the historical record of the Ottoman Empire." He called the resolution "counterproductive."

The press conference, Bush's first since Sept. 20, was dominated by international affairs.

The president was somewhat optimistic — or at least outwardly untroubled _about Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit this week to Tehran. Putin is concerned about a potential U.S. military strike on Iran, saying he sees no evidence that Iran's nuclear program would be used for weapons development.

Bush was asked if the picture of Putin with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad bothered him.

No, the president said; after all, "leaders don't like to be photographed scowling at each other, or you know, making bad gestures at each other. So I'm not surprised there is a nice picture of them walking along."

He said he was "looking forward" to hearing Putin's view of his Iran meetings.

If the Russian leader said he saw no evidence that Iran wants to build a nuclear weapon, Bush said with a chuckle, "I look forward to having him clarify those (comments) because when I visited with him, he understands that it's in the world's interest to make sure that Iran does not have the capacity to make a nuclear weapon."

Bush said he's told people "that if you're interested in avoiding World

War III," they should help prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear knowledge.

The tone was somber when he turned to the Middle East, where Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been meeting this week with Israeli, Palestinian and Egyptian leaders in preparing for an Annapolis, Md., peace conference later this year.

Bush said Rice told him, "this isn't going to be just a photo opportunity. This is going to be a serious and substantive meeting," and said a key reason is that "part of the issue in the past has been that the Arab nations sit on the sidelines. And when a (Palestinian) state is in reach," he said, "they weren't a part of the process, encouraging the parties to move forward."

He wouldn't discuss whether it would be appropriate for Israel to attack a nuclear site in Syria, as the Syrians claim happened last month.

The president was to appear later Wednesday at a congressional tribute to the Dalai Lama — which China objects to as provocative because the Dalai Lama objects to China's oppression of his native Tibet — and was asked if he was concerned about damaging U.S.-China relations.

"My visit today is not new to the Chinese leadership," the president said. He explained that he admires the Dalai Lama, supports religious freedom and "I like going to the gold medal ceremonies."

On other topics:

_ Bush was asked about the comments of retired Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the coalition commander in 2003-04, who on Friday called the U.S. effort in Iraq "a nightmare with no end in sight." Bush said the situation there has "changed quite dramatically" for the better since Sanchez left.

_ Bush insisted that he remains relevant, despite his lame-duck status and approval ratings hovering around 30 percent.

"I've never felt more engaged and more capable of helping people recognize ... there's a lot of unfinished business," he said.

McClatchy Newspapers 2007

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