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U.S., Turkey Tentatively Agree on Troops

February 22, 2003

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The United States and Turkey have reached a tentative agreement to let American troops use Turkish bases to open a northern front in a possible war with Iraq, U.S. officials said Saturday.

Some details still had to be worked out, the officials said, and final approval by Turkey’s parliament was not expected before Tuesday. Pentagon officials said the U.S. military hoped to begin moving American troops and equipment into Turkey as early as Tuesday.

A Turkish official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said in Ankara that Turkey had agreed to $5 billion in grants and $10 billion in loans from the United States in exchange for letting American troops use Turkish territory.

The deal is significant for U.S. war planning. Pentagon officials say invading Iraq from both the north and south would mean a quicker and less risky war. Tens of thousands of American troops already are massing in Kuwait along Iraq’s southern border.

Turkish Prime Minister Abdullah Gul said Saturday that the Cabinet would take up the issue of basing U.S. troops in the country, but did not give a date.

``The relationship between Turkey and the United States is important. We’re discussing everything in the framework of mutual trust and respect,″ Gul told reporters. ``Both sides have concerns. These concerns must be addressed in the best way possible.″

Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis said Friday that a ``broad agreement″ had been reached and that he was optimistic that a solution to remaining issues could be found.

For weeks, negotiators have been discussing a U.S. offer for aid that would help the Turkish economy if there were a war in neighboring Iraq. Turkey fears that a conflict could devastate its tourism industry, which brings in some $10 billion a year.

Turkey had been asking for $10 billion in grants and $20 billion in loans. The United States had been offering $6 billion in grants. A Western diplomat said each billion in grants could guarantee $10 billion in loans.

The agreement for $10 billion in loans and $5 billion in grants described by the Turkish official, therefore, would still cost the United States $6 billion.

The talks also involve Turkey’s request to send troops into northern Iraq in case of a war, a step that Turks say will guarantee stability on their border.

Yakis said those talks are a crucial part of the discussions and addressed Turkey’s fears that a war could spark Iraqi Kurds in northern Iraq to declare independence.

NATO member Turkey is home to the world’s largest Kurdish minority and is concerned that Iraqi Kurdish independence could encourage Turkish Kurds to revolt.

``As far as I know, a positive answer from the United States has not yet come to the proposals (Turkey) has made,″ Recep Tayyip Erdogan, leader of Turkey’s governing party, told reporters Saturday. ``These demands included political, military, and economic fields. When there is a positive response to these requests, Turkey will do its responsibility.″

The signs of an agreement come after weeks of frustration for the United States.

Turkey’s parliament had been expected to vote last Tuesday on accepting the troops _ a date already almost two weeks later than the United States had wanted.

Cargo ships carrying tanks for the 4th Infantry Division are waiting off the Turkish coast to deliver their supplies and U.S. officials said they are concerned that Turkish foot-dragging could delay war plans.

If Turkey refused the U.S. request, the supplies would be moved to the Persian Gulf to strengthen U.S. forces in that region.

An overwhelming majority of Turks, however, oppose a war and Turkey’s government, which just took office in November is balking at taking the unpopular step of letting in U.S. troops.

On the other hand, Turkey cannot afford to alienate Washington, whose political and economic support is crucial.


Associated Press reporter Louis Meixler contributed to this report from Ankara.

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