ANKARA (Reuters)–Turkish Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis said on Friday Turkey’s army would not have a combat role in any operation in northern Iraq–but it would ensure no independent Kurdish state arose from the chaos of a war.
Yakis also said the government would not wait for a United Nations resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq before a parliamentary vote to allow US troops to deploy here.
Turkey on Friday signaled agreement was within reach in talks with Washington on allowing US forces access to bases that could serve as staging points for strikes against Iraq.
The United States has threatened war with Iraq if it does not give up chemical–biological and nuclear weapons program–that Baghdad denies having.
In return–Ankara wants billions of dollars in aid to buttress its weak economy from the shock of any war. It has also sought US assurances that Kurds will be blocked from forming a new state in a region that borders southeast Turkey.
Yakis told Reuters he was optimistic a deal would soon be reached–but said: "There are several points still pending. The emergence of a Kurdish state in northern Iraq is one of the very important questions."
Iraqi Kurds have run a mountainous enclave beyond Baghdad’s control since an uprising in the wake of the 1991 Gulf War.
Kurdish leaders have urged Turkey to keep its troops out of the north. They fear such a deployment could encourage other regional powers–including Iran–to seize parts of Iraq.
White House officials said on Friday plans were being finalized with Turkey for a buffer zone just inside Iraq to control the flow of any refugees. The zone would strictly limit how far Turkish troops could go during and after a US attack. Tukish Troops in Northern Iraq
Thousands of Turkish troops are already in the north to pursue separatist Turkish Kurds who waged a bloody campaign in the 1980s and 1990s to carve out an ethnic homeland from Turkey.
Ankara fears any moves by Iraqi Kurds to cement their self-rule into independence could reignite unrest in Turkey–home to the Middle East’s largest Kurdish population.
"We have already agreed (with US officials) that in north Iraq the number of Turkish troops will be more than the American troops," Yakis said–but added: "We do not plan to go there for combat missions–excepting self-defense conditions."
Yakis said the army would stop refugees at the border and protect the north’s Turkish-speaking minority. But he also said the military would prevent any Kurdish moves towards statehood.
"We are committed with the Americans not to see an independent Kurdish state emerging from this crisis," he said. "At present the Kurdish area enjoys a certain autonomy…We do not want this to be consolidated further and to be transformed into a federal state or an independent state."
But Yakis said Turkish troops would also be tasked with preventing forces opposed to Baghdad from taking the oil fields.
"If because of the turmoil which should prevail in case of war one ethnic group tries to put its hands on the Iraqi oil fields–we would like to see this avoided," Yakis said.
Turkey and the United States are also negotiating the command structure for Turkish troops in northern Iraq.
POWELL SAYS PROGRESS MADE
Ankara wants its troops under the command of a Turkish general who will coordinate with the US commander for all of Iraq–Yakis said.
US Secretary of State Colin Powell–speaking from Alaska en route to Asia–said progress had been made during Friday’s talks and he believed the government could ask parliament to vote on the deployment of tens of thousands of US troops to Turkey early next week.
Yakis would not say when parliament would vote on the deployment and how lawmakers might vote on the request.
"The content of the package and the type of agreement we will have reached will affect the attitudes of the members of parliament," the foreign minister said.
Asked whether Turkey wanted a second UN Security Council resolution calling for force to be used against Iraq–Yakis said the assembly would be left to decide whether such a decision was necessary to allow US troops on Turkish soil.
"If there is a second resolution–of course the parliamentarians will feel that international legitimacy is there. In the absence of it–they may feel that there is no legitimacy. It’s up to them."