U.S., Turkey Discuss Iraq Action

Turkey has agreed to back the United States if it takes military action to topple Saddam Hussein but has asked that Washington write off $5 billion in debt and guarantee that Kurds would not be given an independent state, according to news reports Wednesday.

Turkish leaders publicly have opposed U.S. action against Saddam and had reacted coolly to the Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz's visit to lobby Turkish leaders for support. But Turkey is in desperate need of foreign loans to recover from a deep financial crisis and is likely to have little choice but to agree to U.S. action.

Turkey asked the United States to write off its $5 billion military debt and insisted that regime change in Baghdad should be acceptable to the Iraqi people, the daily Hurriyet newspaper reported. It also said Wolfowitz was asked for public guarantees that a Kurdish state would not be created in northern Iraq and that the military action would not harm Turkey's frail economy.

If Iraq becomes a democratic state, "it won't be only the people of Iraq who benefit from this, but it would be the whole world, and very much this region ... Turkey stands to benefit enormously if Iraq becomes a normal country," said Wolfowitz, the Pentagon's No. 2 official who met with top Turkish leaders Tuesday and Wednesday.

Turkey was a key base for U.S. warplanes during the Gulf War which drove Iraqi troops out of Kuwait. NATO-member Turkey still is base to 50 U.S. fighter jets enforcing a no-fly zone over northern Iraq to protect Kurds who have an autonomous zone there from retribution from Baghdad.

During a meeting with Wolfowitz, Turkey's military Chief of Staff, Gen. Huseyin Kivrikoglu, questioned how the United States was planning to prevent the creation of a Kurdish state, the daily Sabah reported. Turkey fears a Kurdish state in northern Iraq could encourage Kurdish rebels who have fought for 15 years for autonomy inside Turkey.

The news reports said Wolfowitz assured Turkish leaders the United States was firmly opposed to a Kurdish state.

Turkey also warned that the oil rich areas of Mosul and Kirkuk in northern Iraq should not be put under the control of Iraqi Kurds, Hurriyet said. The areas are just outside the autonomous Kurdish zone.