ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkish helicopters and fighter jets pounded Kurdish rebel positions on Friday as diplomatic efforts got off to a rocky start in Ankara to avert a major offensive against the guerrillas based in northern Iraq.
Turkey described as unsatisfactory a series of proposals offered by a high-level Iraqi delegation to Ankara to prevent a major military operation against Kurdish rebels in Iraq.
Ankara had given Iraq a list of members of the outlawed PKK (Kurdish Workers Party) in northern Iraq and demanded that Baghdad hand over all separatist rebels there.
“Everyone there is guilty. They are criminals at least for being a member of a terrorist organization,” Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek said, referring to the PKK. “We want all of them to be handed over.”
Cicek, who oversees Turkey’s counter-terrorism efforts, was speaking in a televised interview with CNN Turk as Iraqi and U.S. officials met Turkish officials in Ankara in a bid to stop Turkey launching an incursion into northern Iraq.
Turkey has massed up to 100,000 troops on the frontier before a possible cross-border operation against about 3,000 PKK guerrillas, who launch deadly attacks into Turkey from Iraq.
The state-run Anatolian news agency said Turkish helicopters fired on PKK positions discovered by reconnaissance missions along the mountainous border and inside Turkey.
Cicek confirmed Turkish air strikes inside Iraq but it was not clear whether he was referring to raids on Friday or earlier ones reported by Iraqi Kurdish officials and security sources.
“Air forces conducted operations (inside Iraq) ... but there was no big land operation. They did not go as far as the Qandil mountains. These mountains are 100 km (60 miles) inside Iraq,” Cicek said.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly said Turkey will not tolerate any more PKK attacks from Iraq and has called for immediate steps by U.S. and Iraqi authorities in order to avert a military operation.
The PKK took up arms against Turkey in 1984 with the aim of creating an ethnic homeland in the southeast. More than 30,000 people have been killed in the conflict.
The Turkish lira currency rose 0.6 percent against the dollar and shares gained 1.4 percent, boosted by the diplomatic efforts in Ankara.
Iraqi Defense Minister General Abdel Qader Jassim and National Security Minister Shirwan al Waeli — whose delegation included officials from the U.S. military and the northern Iraqi Kurdish regional government (KRG) — held talks with Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan and Interior Minister Besir Atalay.
Jassim also met the Turkish Defense minister, Vecdi Gonul.
A senior Turkish diplomat, who declined to be named, told Reuters the Iraqi delegation had offered proposals that included cutting logistical support to the PKK, limiting their movements and closing offices linked to them.
“The Iraqi side has offered some proposals whose application needs a long time, however the timing factor is very important for us and we expect urgent and determined steps from Iraq in fighting terrorism,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Levent Bilman said.
The Iraqi-Turkish talks come ahead of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s visit to Ankara on November 2 to discuss the crisis and before a regional conference in Istanbul on November 2-3, where foreign ministers will discuss Iraq.
Turkish armed forces chief General Yasar Buyukanit was quoted by Turkish media as saying a visit to Washington by Erdogan next month was important with regard to whether Turkey carried out a cross-border operation or not.
“We will wait for him to come back to Turkey (before making a decision),” Buyukanit said.
Public pressure on Turkish authorities to act has grown since rebels killed some 40 soldiers over the last month.
Additional reporting by Thomas Grove in Habur, Daren Butler and Paul de Bendern in Istanbul