ANKARA, Turkey – Parliament on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved a possible cross-border offensive against Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq, although the government appears willing to give diplomatic pressure on the U.S.-backed Iraqi administration more time to work.
Lawmakers voted 507-19 in favor of empowering the government to order the military to cross into Iraq during a one-year period, Parliament Speaker Koksal Toptan said. They then burst into applause.
Turkish leaders have stressed that an offensive against the rebels of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, would not immediately follow the authorization.
In Washington, President Bush said the United States was making clear to Turkey it should not send a massive number of troops into Iraq.
Bush said Turkey has had troops stationed in Iraq “for quite a while.”
“We don’t think it’s in their interest to send more troops in.”
Bush also noted that Tariq al-Hashimi, one of Iraq’s vice presidents, was in Istanbul expressing that Iraq shares Turkey’s concerns about terrorist activities, but that there’s a better way to deal with the issue than sending more troops into Iraq.
“What I’m telling you is that there’s a lot of dialogue going on and that’s positive,” he said.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan appeared to dismiss Bush’s comments.
“What’s important is the parliament’s decision, not what people say,” private NTV television quoted him as saying.
Wednesday’s motion — authorizing an attack into Iraq sometime in the next year — had the backing from all of Turkey’s parliamentary parties except a small Kurdish party.
Oil prices surged to a $89 a barrel after the vote, which overshadowed a U.S. government report that crude oil and gasoline inventories rose more than expected last week.
Hours before the vote, Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called his Turkish counterpart to say that his government was determined to halt the “terrorist activities” of the PKK on Iraqi territory, and he emphasized the need for the two nations to continue to talk, his office said.
In Paris, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, an ethnic Kurd, called on PKK rebels to stop fighting in Turkey, while also urging the Turkish government not to launch an incursion.
“We consider activities of PKK against the interests of the Kurdish people first, and then against the interests of Turkey,” Talabani told reporters during an official visit to the French capital. “We have asked the PKK to stop fighting, to end the so-called military activity.”
Kurdish rebels from the PKK have been fighting since 1984 for autonomy in Turkey’s Kurdish-dominated southeast, a conflict that has claimed tens of thousands of lives.
Visiting Syrian President Bashar Assad said Turkey had a legitimate right to stage a cross-border offensive.
“We accept this as Turkey’s legitimate right. As Syria, we are supporting all decisions by Turkey and we are standing behind them,” Assad said.
Public anger over attacks by Kurdish guerrillas is high but Turkish officials are mindful that two dozen Iraqi campaigns since the 1980s have failed to eradicate the PKK.
Erdogan said Tuesday that Turkey “will act with common sense and determination when necessary and when the time is ripe.”
Turkey has complained about what it considers a lack of U.S. support in the fight against the PKK. It also is frustrated that a U.S. House panel last week approved a resolution labeling the World War 1-era killing of up to 1.5 million Armenians in the final years of the Ottoman Empire a genocide.
The resolution is an affront to Turks, who deny there was any systematic campaign to eliminate Armenians.
At the White House news conference, Bush also repeated calls for the Democratic-controlled Congress to drop plans for the resolution.
Noting the number of domestic bills pending before Congress, he said: “One thing Congress should not be doing is sorting out the historical record of the Ottoman Empire.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she will schedule a vote soon on the resolution. But the initiative was in jeopardy after several Democrats withdrew their support and sounded alarms it could cripple U.S. relations with Turkey.