World powers to discuss Iran sanctions

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LONDON (Reuters) – The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany will discuss imposing a third round of sanctions on Iran because of its nuclear program on Friday.

Iran has refused to stop enriching uranium and the West fears it is bent on producing atomic bombs, which Tehran denies.

The United States, which will be represented by undersecretary of state for political affairs Nicholas Burns, says it wants to make progress in outlining the sanctions resolution and ministers can then decide on its timing.

Burns said he hoped Russia and China would attend the London meeting with a “serious demeanor”. He said the two countries, major trading partners with Iran, had effectively blocked moves towards a third sanctions resolution for six months.

The United States imposed economic sanctions last week and has not ruled out military action against Iran. Russia believes dialogue rather than more punishment is the way forward while China reacted to the American move by saying it was opposed to imposing sanctions “too rashly”.

Speaking to reporters on Friday on her way to Turkey, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Washington had had some “tactical” differences with China and Russia about the timing and the “depth or breadth” of a Security Council resolution.

“But the Russians — when I talked to (Foreign Minister) Sergei Lavrov yesterday — he said they were prepared to come and work on the text as we agreed when we were together last and we will just have to see how those discussions go,” she said.

The major powers agreed in late September to delay a vote on tougher sanctions until late November at the earliest after it had received reports by the U.N. nuclear watchdog and a European Union negotiator.

After four days of talks with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Tehran meant to help clear up suspicions about Iran’s atomic activities, both sides expressed satisfaction, Iran’s state broadcaster reported on Thursday.

Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the IAEA, is due to report in mid-November about whether Iran has answered questions about its past secret nuclear activity.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said this week Tehran would not retreat in the dispute and dismissed U.S. offers of broader negotiations if Iran suspended its most sensitive atomic work.

Iran says its program is peaceful and aimed at generating electricity so that it can export more oil and gas.

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Turkey’s leadership will hold off on ordering an offensive against Kurdish guerrilla bases

ISTANBUL, Turkey – Turkey’s leadership will hold off on ordering an offensive against Kurdish guerrilla bases in northern Iraq until the prime minister visits Washington early next month, the military chief said Friday.

The country’s civilian leaders, meanwhile, said they were not satisfied with proposals from Iraq’s U.S.-backed government for dealing with Turkish Kurd separatist fighters who take shelter across the border.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan plans to travel to Washington on Nov. 5 to meet with President Bush in what is widely expected to be the climax of frantic diplomatic activity aimed at averting a major Turkish incursion.

The top U.S. military commander in northern Iraq said he plans to do “absolutely nothing” to counter Kurdish rebels who are staging deadly cross-border attacks into neighboring Turkey. It was the most blunt assertion yet by an American official in the last few weeks that U.S. forces should not be involved in the fight.

Military momentum and public calls for action are building in Turkey, fueled by rebel attacks that have killed dozens this month. Turkish aircraft reportedly bombed more suspected rebel hideouts inside Turkey on Friday, and big crowds gathered across the nation this week demanding a crackdown.

A military campaign in northern Iraq worries Washington because it could upset one of the few relatively tranquil areas in Iraq. It also would put the U.S. in an awkward position between key allies: NATO member Turkey on one side and the Baghdad government and the north’s self-governing Iraqi Kurds on the other.

At the same, Turkish leaders have been reluctant to send the army across the mountainous border, fearing it could get bogged down in a prolonged and perhaps inconclusive conflict while suffering damage to its international alliances. Previous incursions failed to quell the PKK.

“The armed forces will carry out a cross-border offensive when assigned,” private NTV television quoted the military chief, Gen. Yasar Buyukanit, as saying. “Prime Minister Erdogan’s visit to the United States is very important; we will wait for his return.”

For months, Turkey has repeatedly demanded more help from the United States and Iraq in its fight against the rebel Kurdistan Workers’ Party, known by its Kurdish acronym PKK. The group, which has been fighting for autonomy for the predominantly Kurdish population in southeastern Turkey since 1984, is labeled a terrorist group by Washington and the European Union.

Erdogan is likely to repeat appeals for a crackdown in northern Iraq when he talks with Bush, whose administration has been preoccupied with trying to curb violence and political chaos elsewhere in Iraq.

But there is a strong sense among Turks that any assurances of action from Washington will amount to little, and public demands are growing for swift, forceful action against the PKK. The government has said the U.S. and Iraq must act quickly if they want to forestall an incursion.

“We will go to the United States on Nov. 5 and we will openly talk about these issues with the president,” Erdogan said on returning from a trip to Romania.

“Turkey has done all necessary lobbying efforts with countries in the Middle East and European Union countries and primarily with the United States” ahead of a possible cross-border offensive, he said.

Foreign Minister Ali Babacan was scheduled to fly to Iran on Saturday to discuss the crisis.

The Bush administration has said repeatedly that the border crisis should be resolved through diplomacy.

Maj. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, the top U.S. military commander in northern Iraq, said Friday it was not the U.S. military’s responsibility to act against PKK rebels operating from the region. He said he had sent no additional American troops to the border area and was not tracking hiding places or supply activities of PKK guerrillas.

Speaking to Pentagon reporters from a U.S. base near Tikrit in northern Iraq, Mixon also said he had not seen Iraqi Kurd authorities move against the rebels.

“I have not seen any overt action,” he said. “But those are the types of activities that are managed and coordinated at higher levels than my own.”

Turkey’s government said it was disappointed with an Iraqi delegation, including the defense minister, that held meetings in Ankara on Friday to try to defuse the crisis. The Iraqis suggested reinforcing border posts and setting up new ones to prevent illegal crossings and reviving a negotiation process among Iraq, Turkey and the U.S. that stalled earlier this year.

The Iraqis also pledged to do everything possible to help free eight Turkish soldiers who were allegedly captured by guerrillas in an ambush Sunday if they were being held in Iraq.

“The Iraqi side is approaching the issue with good will, but we have seen that the Iraqi delegation came to us with ideas that would take time to implement,” Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement. Turkey wants “urgent and determined” steps from Iraq, it said.

Turkey also is demanding the extradition of Kurdish rebel leaders based in Iraq’s north in order to “finish off the group,” Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek said. CNN-Turk television, citing unidentified Iraqi officials, said Turkey asked for the extradition of 153 PKK members.

The CNN-Turk report also said the Iraqi delegation claimed Iraq’s government could hand over at least 18 PKK members. Iraqi leaders have said publicly that they don’t have the ability to go after Kurdish rebel leaders hiding in remote mountainous areas.

Any Iraqi action against the PKK would require cooperation from the north’s Iraqi Kurd administration, which is unlikely to move forcefully against its ethnic brethren from Turkey. Iraqi Kurds suspect the Turks want to cross the border to curb Kurdish separatist aspirations for oil-rich northern Iraq, fearing that will further encourage rebellious Kurds in Turkey.

“The PKK is not a licensed party with known offices and officials in the north of Iraq,” said Jamal Abdullah, a spokesman for the autonomous Kurdish regional government. “I do not know how we are supposed to arrest people who are unknown to us. They might be situated in mountainous area near the border or they might be in Turkey itself.”

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US steering clear of Kurdish fight

WASHINGTON – The top U.S. military commander in northern Iraq said Friday he plans to do “absolutely nothing” to counter Kurdish rebels who are staging deadly cross-border attacks into neighboring Turkey.

It was the most blunt assertion yet by an American official in the last few weeks that U.S. forces should not be involved in the fight. The Bush administration has said repeatedly that the border crisis should be resolved through diplomacy.

Turkey’s state-run Anatolia news agency reported Turkish airstrikes on suspected rebel positions Friday and Ankara has threatened a large-scale offensive into Iraq if U.S. and Iraqi authorities don’t stop the rebels. On Friday, Iraq and Turkish officials held the latest in a series of diplomatic meetings aimed at ending the standoff.

Asked what the U.S. military was planning to do, Maj. Gen. Benjamin Mixon said: “Absolutely nothing.”

Mixon said it’s not his responsibility, that he’s sent no additional U.S. troops to the border area and he’s not tracking hiding places or logistics activities of rebels from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, known by its Kurdish acronym PKK.

He also has not seen Kurdish Iraqi authorities move against the rebels either, Mixon told Pentagon reporters by videoconference from a U.S. base near Tikrit in northern Iraq.

“I have not seen any overt action … But those are the types of activities that are managed and coordinated at higher levels than my own,” he said.

Top Defense Department and State Department officials this week said that Iraq’s Kurdish regional government should cut rebel supplies and disrupt rebel movement over the border, adding that Washington is increasingly frustrated by Kurdish inaction.

As Turkey has increased pressure for someone to act, Pentagon officials have said repeatedly that U.S. forces are tied up with the fight against insurgents and al-Qaida elsewhere in Iraq.

Few of the roughly 170,000 U.S. military forces in Iraq are along the border with Turkey. But there is ample air power available.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates suggested this week that airstrikes or major ground assaults by U.S., Turkish, or other forces wouldn’t help much because not enough is known about where the rebels are hiding at a given time.

Asked during a NATO meeting in Europe about the prospects of U.S. military strikes, he said: “Without good intelligence, just sending large numbers of troops across the border or dropping bombs doesn’t seem to make much sense to me.”

Americans also fear that a full-scale battle in the north would destabilize what has been one of the most prosperous and peaceful parts of Iraq in recent years — a region run by Kurds who have some sympathies with the rebels.

Asked if he has detected PKK supply lines running through his area that Iraqi Kurdish authorities could curtail, Mixon said: “That would be speculation … I don’t track the specific locations of the PKK. So you’d have to ask somebody else.”

Mixon would not even talk in general about the PKK’s fighting abilities. He was asked why such a small group of an estimated few thousand guerrillas is considered so effective, tenacious and threatening to Turkey.

“I have no idea,” he said. “You’ll have to ask somebody in the Turkish government.”

Does he think he has any responsibility to try to avoid a Turkish incursion into the north?

“I have not been given any requirements or any responsibility for that,” he said.

But if terrorists are operating in his region, he was asked, why not get involved?

“Let me put it to you very clearly,” he answered. The provincial Kurdish authorities have their own Peshmerga militia, Mixon and, “it’s their responsibility” in three northern provinces of Iraq.

He said no one has specifically told him to ignore the rebel problem, “but I hadn’t been given instructions to do anything about it, either.”

If he were ordered to do something, would he have enough U.S. troops?

“That’s a hypothetical question,” Mixon replied. “I haven’t studied it.

“I haven’t been given any instructions that would even vaguely resemble what you just mentioned,” the general said. “So I don’t see any sense in talking about it.”

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‘Positive’ Turkey-Iraq talks resume: Iraqi official

ANKARA (AFP) – Crisis talks between Iraqi and Turkish ministers over threats of a Turkish strike on northern Iraq resumed Friday afternoon, an Iraqi embassy source here said.

Iraqi defence ministry spokesman Muhammed Askeri earlier said a first round of talks in the morning had produced “positive” results.

The talks are being held at an Ankara hotel between Iraq’s Defence Minister Abdel Qader Mohammed Jassim and National Security Minister Shirwan al-Waeli and Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan and Interior Minister Besir Atalay.

Commenting on the morning talks that lasted only 90 minutes, Askeri said: “Very important talks are under way. There are positive results, everything is happening as planned.”

A working lunch preceded the second round of talks, in which the two Iraqi Kurdish representatives are also present, the Iraqi embassy source said.

The Turkish side has refrained from all comment on the discussions aimed at dissuading Ankara from launching military incursions against bases of the armed separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in the mountains of northern Iraq.

Tensions have risen since the Turkish parliament last week authorised the government to order military incursions against the bases of the PKK, which has been waging a bloody campaign for self-rule in southeast Turkey since 1974.

They peaked after the PKK ambushed a military patrol on Sunday, killing 12 soldiers and capturing eight.

The Turkish army has since massed men and materiel along the border and reported it had killed more than 60 Kurdish rebels in fighting since Sunday’s ambush.

Turkey has long complained of what it calls US and Iraqi inaction in dealing with the PKK in northern Iraq, where the rebels enjoy safe haven.

Washington and Baghdad have vowed to make good on promises to crack down on the PKK, but Turkish leaders, facing strong domestic pressure for rapid military action, have voiced mounting exasperation.

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Democrats worry Bush setting up war with Iran

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Some Democratic presidential candidates worried on Thursday the White House had begun a march to war by declaring Iran’s Revolutionary Guard a terrorism supporter while a top Republican said “bombardment” of Iran should be an option.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney took a hard-line stance against Iran after the U.S. State Department imposed sanctions on the Revolutionary Guard in a bid to pressure Tehran to stop enriching uranium.

Washington also accuses Iran of supplying explosive devices to Iraqi militants that are being used to kill U.S. and Iraqi troops.

Romney, trying to win his party’s presidential nomination for the November 2008 election, said in New Hampshire the military option must be on the table in the event sanctions do not work.

“I really can’t lay out exactly how that would be done, but we have a number of options from blockade to bombardment of some kind, and that’s something we very much have to keep on the table, and if you will, ready ourselves to be able to take because frankly it’s unacceptable for Iran to have nuclear weapons,” Romney said.

Democrats, meanwhile, were afraid they were hearing a drumbeat for war against Iran, much as occurred in the run-up to the Iraq war in 2003.

“I am deeply concerned that once again the president is opting for military action as a first resort,” said Connecticut Sen. Christopher Dodd, a long-shot Democratic presidential candidate.

Dodd and others in the battle for the party’s presidential nomination took a shot at the Democratic front-runner, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, for voting in favor of a Senate resolution that recommended the State Department label Iran’s Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization.

“Instead of blocking George Bush’s new march to war, Sen. Clinton and others are enabling him once again,” said one candidate, former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards.

Another Democratic candidate, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, said that unfortunately, the Senate measure “made the case for President Bush that we need to use our military presence in Iraq to counter Iran — a case that has nothing to do with sanctioning the Revolutionary Guard.”

Clinton, however, strongly defended her vote in favor of the Senate resolution, said she supported the sanctions announced by the State Department, and urged the Bush administration to engage in “robust diplomacy” with Iran.

“We must work to check Iran’s nuclear ambitions and its support of terrorism, and the sanctions announced today strengthen America’s diplomatic hand in that regard,” she said in a statement.

Clinton, trying to prevent the issue from becoming a point of contention with liberal Democrats concerned she would lead the United States into another war, has been seeking to assure Democrats her vote should not be seen as giving Bush authority for war on Iran.

“I believe that a policy of diplomacy backed by economic pressure is the best way to check Iran’s efforts to acquire a nuclear weapons program and stop its support of terrorism, and the best way to avert a war,” she said.

Clinton is still taking heat from anti-war liberals for her 2002 vote in favor of a Senate measure that authorized the use of force against Iraq.

Reuters

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Bush asks for $46 billion more for wars

WASHINGTON – President Bush asked Congress for $46 billion more to bankroll wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and said he wants the money approved by Christmas. The fighting in Iraq, in its fifth year, already has cost more than $455 billion.

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