By Kristin Roberts
CANBERRA, Feb 24 (Reuters) - Turkey’s military strike against Kurdish PKK guerrillas in northern Iraq will not solve its problem with the separatist rebels, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Sunday, calling for Ankara to take political and economic measures to isolate the group.
Gates, in Australia as part of a longer Asia trip, also urged Turkey to respect Iraq’s sovereignty and improve communication with Baghdad about both the ongoing operation and other efforts against the PKK.
"I think it’s important for everybody to bear in mind the importance of the sovereignty of Iraq," Gates told reporters.
"There has been contact at high levels about this activity that is in northern Iraq right now. I think that there can always be improvement in the timeliness and in the depth of the dialogue. It can’t be just a one-time event. It needs to be an ongoing dialogue."
Turkish troops opened a major offensive on Thursday against Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) rebels, who have been fighting for decades to create a Kurdish homeland in southeast Turkey.
Ankara said it was forced to launch the cross-border attack after Iraqi authorities failed to stop an estimated 3,000 PKK members from using northern Iraq as a base to stage deadly attacks against soldiers and civilians inside Turkey.
Asked whether the military strike could resolve Turkey’s problem with PKK rebels, Gates said: "No."
"I think all of our experience in Iraq and Afghanistan shows us that, while dealing with a terrorist problem does require security operations, it also requires economic and political initiatives," he said.
"The kinds of military activities that they have been engaged in should be complemented with initiatives to try and address some of the concerns of those who are reconcilable among the Kurds, to win their loyalty to Turkey if they are living in Turkey and to try and eliminate whatever popular base exists that supports the terrorist activities of the PKK."
Gates said the local Kurdish government, accused by Ankara of supporting the PKK, had begun doing more to help Iraqi and Turkish officials.
But he warned that Turkey’s concern would not be resolved until the number of PKK attacks inside Turkish territory decreased.
"I think Turkish concern will only be allayed when there is a significant diminution in PKK activity in Turkey, killing Turkish soldiers and civilians," he said.