ISTANBUL, Turkey – Iraq vowed Saturday to take strong measures against Kurdish guerrillas on the Turkish border but warned Turkey and other parties at a conference of neighboring governments against moves that would “destabilize” already-tenuous Iraqi security.

Vowing to “cooperate in the fight against terror,” Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said his government wanted “dialogue, not weapons and force.” He repeated earlier promises to close offices of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in northern Iraq and to more closely monitor the mountainous border area where PKK fighters have staged attacks that have left dozens of Turkish soldiers and civilians dead in recent weeks.But it remained uncertain whether Iraq could – or would – stop the PKK, and the problem seemed as thorny as ever after the daylong talks.

Most Iraqi army forces in the north are Kurds. While there is little political love lost between the Kurdish regional government and the PKK, the government is reluctant to risk a popular backlash by ordering military attacks against the guerrilla forces entrenched on the border.

Turkey has demanded that the United States pressure Iraq to rout the PKK, or send U.S. troops to do it. But the U.S. military command in Baghdad has shown no enthusiasm for the task or for antagonizing the Kurds.

“We are not now and haven’t been in a position to go up and occupy all the high places up along the border ourselves. Nor are Iraqi regular forces,” said Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq. “Quite frankly, that is probably the only thing that could have prevented” the current crisis.

The massing of an estimated 100,000 Turkish troops on the border, however, appears at the very least to have focused U.S. and Iraqi officials on a situation they had long relegated to the back burner.

“We clearly are going to have to take actions to deal with the PKK threat,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Saturday as she left the conference en route to Jerusalem and another thorny problem – persuading Israelis and Palestinians to move forward on peace negotiations.

“I think we made very clear our commitment that we really do consider this a problem for us” as well as for Turkey, Rice said following a trilateral meeting on the border situation with her Turkish and Iraqi counterparts. She said that she had tried to convince Turkey that a major military incursion would “not serve its interests,” potentially result in an even more unstable Iraq and unlikely be successful.

“We’ve learned the hard way” about the difficulties of anti-terror operations “in remote locations,” Rice said in an apparent reference to failed U.S. efforts to capture al-Qaida and Taliban leaders in the remote, inaccessible Afghan-Pakistani border region.

In Saturday’s conversation and in meetings with the Turkish government Friday in Ankara, Rice pledged that the administration would step up its pressure on the Iraqi government and appealed to Turkey to hold off, at least until Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan meets with President Bush at the White House on Monday.

Crocker said it was “incredibly important” that the Iraqis affect the PKK’s “ability to operate in Iraq.” Iraqi measures, he said, would include a crackdown on the movement of supplies and people to PKK mountain redoubts and on money, much of which reportedly comes from PKK extortion of Turks living in Europe.

The PKK, founded in Turkey in the early 1980s, seeks separation for Turkey’s Kurdish population, an ethnic minority that spans the adjoining border regions of Iraq, Syria and Iran.

The meeting included the permanent five members of the U.N. Security Council, the Group of Eight industrialized countries as well as Iraq’s Arab neighbors and Iran.

AP-NY-11-03-07 2050EDT

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