US Says it’s ‘Decision Time’ for Turkey

WASHINGTON (Reuters)–The United States said on Tuesday it was "decision time” for Turkey to accept a nearly $26 billion economic aid package in exchange for help in a possible war with Iraq.

"It … 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. We will find out what the ultimate outcome is.”

President George W. Bush met with Turkish Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis and others at the White House on Friday–pressing for a quick agreement that would allow American forces to use Turkish bases as a springboard for an invasion of Iraq from the north.

In exchange for Turkish help–the United States is offering Ankara an aid package that includes about $6 billion in gran’s and up to $20 billion in loan guarantees. But so far–Turkey has balked at the offer.

Ankara has been seeking twice that amount to cushion Turkish economy from the economic shock of a possible war. Turkey warns support for US not inevitable Turkey–however–warned the United States on Tuesday not to take for granted its support in a war against Iraq–backing which Washington needs to open a "northern front” against Saddam Hussein.

The NATO allies have been negotiating a deal to allow tens of thousands of US troops on Turkish soil to be able to strike from the north should the United States attack Iraq for allegedly building weapons of mass destruction.

Tayyip Erdogan–leader of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)–told his deputies Turkey had not yet committed itself to allowing the United States to use its bases.

Turkey has permitted US engineers to upgrade bases and sea ports–and Washington had expected parliament to open the military facilities to US soldiers during a Tuesday vote.

But Turkish political leaders said on Monday that would have to wait until agreement was reached on billions of dollars in US aid and on the role Turkey’s army could play in any war.

"Our American friends should not consider the decision made by parliament on modernizing bases and ports means we have set off on an irreversible path of support,” Erdogan said.

"We have in no way made a single one-sided pledge of commitment–including the date of February 18.”

If Ankara drags its feet–US military planners could go ahead without a northern front. But a move on Iraq from Turkey would relieve a main invasion into the south and could shorten any war and cut American casualties.

OPPOSED TO WAR

The AKP–which traces its roots to banned Islamist movemen’s–has publicly opposed a war in Iraq. Public opinion against an attack on a fellow Muslim state is running strong.

"If we are going to work together–if our support has meaning for the United States–then the United States needs to keep in mind our sensitivities and greet our requests with good intentions,” said Erdogan–who could become prime minister after a March by-election.

President Ahmet Necdet Sezer said the UN Security Council would have to pass a second resolution before Turkey would allow US troops to deploy on its territory.

"There must be international legitimacy for foreign armed forces to deploy to Turkey. We believe there must be another Security Council resolution for international legitimacy.”

Turkey is seeking a financial aid package from Washington that could total $15 billion or more to brace its economy against losses in tourism and trade in the event of a war.

Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis said the government would go to parliament only when Washington met Turkish deman’s on aid.

"When conditions are fulfilled we are prepared to present it in the shortest possible time,” Yakis told reporters.

Ankara also wants to send into northern Iraq its own troops to deal with a potential refugee crisis as well as block any Iraqi Kurdish attempts to set up an independent state.

Kurds have been running northern Iraq since rising up against President Saddam Hussein in the wake of the 1991 Gulf War. Ankara fears they will try to cement their autonomy during the chaos of a war and spark unrest among Turkey’s Kurds.

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