ANKARA, Turkey (AP) – Faced with the prospect of another front opening in the already difficult Iraq war, the United States struggled Friday to persuade Turkey not to send its army across the Iraqi border to attack guerrillas who use the remote terrain to launch strikes inside Turkey.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged calm and cooperation in a string of meetings with top Turkish leaders fed up with rebel attacks and insistent that Turkey will do what it must to stop them.

She made a similar argument later Friday in a separate meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose government has said it will not stand for any cross-border assault.

Foreign Minister Ali Babacan sounded impatient, and he offered no public promise of the restraint Washington seeks.

“We have great expectations from the United States,” Babacan said at a news conference following his meeting with Rice. “We are at the point where words have been exhausted and where there is need for action.”

Ankara has said Turkey wants to hear specifics about what the United States is prepared to do to counter the rebel Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, or Turkey will launch an attack. Rebel attacks against Turkish positions over the last month have left 47 dead, including 35 soldiers, according to government and media reports.

Many Turks are furious with the United States for its perceived failure to pressure Iraq into cracking down on the PKK, which operates from bases in the semiautonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq. Street protesters have urged the government to send forces across the border even if it means deepening the rift with the U.S., their NATO ally.

Turkey’s military chief has said the country will wait until after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan meets with President Bush next week in Washington to make a final decision about an assault.

Washington worries a Turkish incursion would bring instability to what has been the calmest part of Iraq, and could set a precedent for other countries, like Iran, that also have conflicts with Kurdish rebels. Babacan returned from a trip to Iran last week, lobbying for support for the Turkish side and underscoring that Turkey will act as it sees fit, regardless of U.S. pressure.

“We all need to redouble our efforts and the United States is committed to redoubling our efforts,” Rice said. “No one should doubt the commitment of the United States in this situation.”

She said the United States is working to broaden its sharing of intelligence and has begun discussing longer-term solutions that would involve Turkey, Iraq and the United States.

In a sign of potential cooperation, the Kurdish region’s Minister of Culture Falkadin Kakei told The Associated Press in Baghdad that Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party has agreed to meet a delegation of Iraqi Kurds to discuss the crisis.

“This is a positive development, before Erdogan refused to meet with (Iraqi Kurd leader Massoud) Barzani or deal with the Kurdish government as an official entity, now this is happening on the level of political parties,” he said without giving a date for the meeting.

Kakei, who is reportedly on Turkey’s wanted list for his ties to the PKK, said he expected these talks to lead eventually to a direct dialogue between Ankara and Irbil, something the Turkish government has refused to do so far, accusing Iraq’s Kurds of “aiding and abetting” the separatist guerrillas.

The United States charges that weapons and foreign fighters flow over Iraq’s borders from Iran and Syria to confront U.S. forces, but until now the border area with Turkey has been relatively quiet.

“It is our hope and our desire that as a country that has been the target of a big terror attack the U.S. will understand the situation we are in, understand the frustration we feel, the outrage,” Babacan said, according to a simultaneous English translation of his words.

The conflict between Turkey and the Kurdish rebels predates the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and has little to do with the sectarian divisions that have all but paralyzed Iraq’s fragile U.S.-backed government and prolonged the war.

The United States paid little attention to the issue, despite Turkish complaints, until the burst of rebel attacks this fall threatened to bring open warfare to Iraq’s largely self-governing north – the only part of the country that has been relatively safe, stable and economically sound.

Bush had named a former NATO supreme commander – retired Air Force Gen. Joseph Ralston – as a U.S. envoy to try to defuse tensions, but the general resigned in apparent frustration last month.

Rice’s visit to Ankara is a sign of the priority Washington now places on cooling a conflict that places the U.S. between important NATO ally Turkey, the weak U.S.-backed government in Baghdad and the self-governing Kurds in Iraq’s oil-rich north.

Rice rearranged a previously scheduled trip to Turkey to add meetings in the capital, where she also tried to soothe lingering Turkish irritation over a vote in Congress last month that labeled as genocide the 1915 killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks.

AP-ES-11-02-07 1828EDT


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