Turkey's foreign minister optimistic on agreement

Saturday, February 22, 2003

ANKARA, Turkey -- Turkey's foreign minister said Friday that a "broad agreement" had been reached with the United States on basing American soldiers here for a possible Iraq war, and that remaining disagreements would likely be resolved.

Secretary of State Colin Powell and a Western diplomat also said progress was being made. But Prime Minister Abdullah Gul said a final agreement may still be days off on approving the deployment, which could open a northern front against Iraq for a two-pronged attack aimed at dividing and overwhelming Saddam Hussein's army.

Washington and Ankara were discussing Turkey's request for some $10 billion in grants as well as Turkey's demands that it send troops into northern Iraq to maintain stability if there is an invasion. The latter issue is extremely sensitive in Turkey, where there are fears a war could spark Iraqi Kurds to declare an independent state, encouraging Turkey's own Kurdish minority.

"I am optimistic that an agreement will be reached," Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis told The Associated Press.

Earlier, he told CNN International that Turkey and the United States had reached "a very broad agreement on all subjects. The remaining issues are not that many but I think we will be able to overcome the differences and mutually agree."

"There are several points on which we asked the American side for clarifications," he told AP. "The emergence of a Kurdish state in northern Iraq is one of the very important questions" in the talks.

Powell said Friday the two countries will work intensively over the next three days on their differences. He said the United States' offer of $6 billion in aid stands, although the two sides are looking to see "how much flexibility there is."

"We believe the possibility exists for the Turkish government to take this to their parliament early next week," Powell said.

U.S. officials have said that the Turkish delays threaten to undermine war plans.

Gul said he expected a result "in the coming days," but Yakis said it was not certain parliament would be ready to vote on an agreement when it meets in its next session on Tuesday.

The optimistic statements came amid rising tensions between the United States and NATO's only Muslim member.

Turkey's parliament had been expected to vote Tuesday on allowing in the soldiers -- a date already almost two weeks later than the United States had wanted.

In Ankara, U.S. Representative Joel Hefley, R-Colo., met with Turkey's top politician, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and stressed the U.S. desire for a quick decision, pointing out that cargo ships carrying tanks for the 4th Infantry division were waiting off the Turkish coast, a spokesman for Erdogan's Justice and Development Party said. He spoke on condition of anonymity.

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

But the delays continued Friday.

An overwhelming majority of Turks -- some polls say up to 94 percent -- oppose a war, and Turkey's government is balking at taking the unpopular step of letting in U.S. troops.

On the other hand, Turkey faces intense U.S. pressure to accept a deal and cannot afford to alienate Washington, whose political and economic support is crucial here.

The talks involve Turkey's request for some $10 billion in aid, help the country said is crucial for supporting the Turkish economy if there is a war.

Turks say a war would devastate their tourism industry -- which brings in about $10 billion a year -- and that they will lose another billion in lost trade with Iraq.

The United States is offering some $6 billion, and in an effort to break the deadlock, suggested that some of that money could be used to guarantee loans for Turkey, a Western diplomat said Thursday. The diplomat said that $1 billion in grants could guarantee $6-10 billion in loans depending on the length and interest of the loan.

Washington is also insisting that the loans are linked to economic reforms backed by the International Monetary Fund. Turkey wants the U.S. aid to be independent of those conditions.

The talks are also addressing Turkey's concerns that a war could encourage Kurds in northern Iraq.

Turkey is looking to send thousands of its own soldiers into northern Iraq if there is a war. Turkish officials say this will guarantee stability. Iraqi Kurds fear that the Turks are looking to crack down on Kurdish nationalism that is strong in the autonomous Kurdish areas of northern Iraq.

Turks are also insisting that Iraqi Kurdish groups in northern Iraq are disarmed after a war under Turkish supervision, the daily Hurriyet reported.

The Turks and the United States reportedly have reached agreement that the northern oil-rich cities of Mosul and Kirkuk will be seized by U.S. forces during a war and the Kurds and Turks, both of whom have claims to those areas, will not enter the cities.

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