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Turkey balks at U.S. troops vote

Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 19, 2003

ANKARA, Turkey -- The Bush administration's plans to open a northern front in a war against Iraq appeared in jeopardy Tuesday after the Turkish government said it won't seek a parliamentary vote allowing U.S. troops in Turkey unless Washington greatly increases the size of a proposed aid package.

Facing strong resistance at home to a war, Turkish officials said they need far more than the $6-billion in grants and $20-billion in loans the Bush administration has offered before they will seek legislative approval for the troop movement.

Instead, Turkish officials demanded as much as $10-billion in aid. But U.S. officials Tuesday dug in their heels, indicating they are not inclined to increase the U.S. proposal much.

The dispute "will be settled one way or another rather soon," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. "We continue to work with Turkey as a friend. But it is decision time."

A senior Western official in Ankara, quoted by the Los Angeles Times, insisted the postponement in the parliamentary vote was an effort by the Turks to get the Bush administration to give up the idea of funneling troops through their country.

That front has been key to Pentagon war plans. A threat from the north would force Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to divide and weaken his forces, making it easier for the larger U.S. force coming from Kuwait and potentially hastening the end of the war.

Thousands of U.S. troops are heading to Turkey on U.S. Navy ships.

Pentagon officials have said a Turkish refusal would not be a "showstopper" for the effort to develop a northern front.

Instead, the U.S. military might fly forces into Kurdish airfields in northern Iraq and work with Kurdish forces to jointly attack Hussein's armies in the north.

But the United States would have to be content with a smaller force if it took that approach. It might have only 10,000 to 20,000 U.S. troops, versus 40,000 if Turkey is used, analysts say.

According to Turkish media reports, a sticking point in U.S.-Turkish talks is the role Turkey's armed forces would play in northern Iraq and whose command they would fall under.

The United States has recently reached agreement with Turkey to allow Turkish troops inside Kurdish-controlled areas of northern Iraq.

Iraqi Kurdish leaders, who are strongly opposed to a Turkish military presence, are demanding those troops be led by a U.S. commander. Turkey has squarely refused.

A senior Turkish official involved in the negotiations said another key demand being pushed by Turkey's powerful military leaders was for the United States to put in writing guarantees that it would not support the establishment of an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq.

As Turkey hesitates, the Bush administration has quietly received almost complete military and intelligence cooperation from Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other key nations in the Middle East, according to the Boston Globe, which cited senior officials at the Defense and State departments.

The cooperation includes the use of a command center at the Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia that can coordinate real-time information from U.S. special operations forces on the ground with fighter planes and armed Predator spy aircraft, the newspaper reported.

In a key turnaround, Saudi officials also have given permission for the U.S. Air Force to fly combat missions from Prince Sultan Air Base after a war begins against Iraq, the Globe reported, citing defense officials. Until now, the Saudis have publicly said they would only allow U.S. military planes at the base to monitor the southern no-fly zone in Iraq.

The Pentagon, meanwhile, ordered the deployment of 28,000 more troops in the Persian Gulf region, bringing the number of U.S. troops stationed in the region to more than 200,000.

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