ANKARA, Turkey – Turkey's top civilian and military leaders agreed Saturday to allow the United States to send 38,000 troops to the country to open a northern front should there be war with Iraq, television reported.
Washington had asked to station 80,000 troops in Turkey, but in the face of strong public opposition to war Turkish leaders asked the United States to scale back its request.
The decision, if verified, would have to be approved by parliament, which is expected to meet Feb. 18 to vote on a bill allowing U.S. combat troops for an Iraq operation.
Lawmakers voted Thursday to allow the United States to renovate bases and ports in Turkey and some 3,500 U.S. troops are expected in Turkey for that purpose.
Also Saturday, Turkey and the United States agreed on the legal and financial frameworks for base modernizations, the foreign ministry said in a statement carried by the Anatolia news agency.
The renovations would not bring any financial burden to Turkey, the agreement said. U.S. officials have said Washington is prepared to spend hundreds of million dollars for renovations.
Under the deal, U.S. troops in Turkey would be subject to Turkish law and would be tried in Turkish courts for any criminal offense. The legal status of the U.S. soldiers reportedly was a sticking point during negotiations.
NTV television said Turkey's leaders agreed to let the United States launch attacks from three air bases: Diyarbakir and Batman in southeastern Turkey and Incirlik in southern Turkey. U.S. and British planes already are stationed at Incirlik air base, which they use to patrol the northern no-fly zone above Iraq.
The United States also would be allowed to use three other bases for logistical support, and at least one Mediterranean port, NTV said.
U.S. officials have said a northern front would quicken the war and have been pressing Turkish leaders relentlessly for backing.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Lou Fintor refused to discuss details of discussions between Turkish and U.S. officials.
"We look forward to the Turkish parliament's consideration of the remainder of our requests," Fintor said.
A top official of the governing Justice and Development Party said he expected easy approval for the basing agreement on Feb. 18.
Turkish officials refused to comment on the NTV report.
Prime Minister Abdullah Gul, top government ministers and Turkey's military chief, Gen. Hilmi Ozkok, met Saturday to iron out the details of the U.S. military presence in Turkey. After the meeting, the prime ministry issued a written statement saying only that the leaders discussed the political, military, and economic dimensions of the Iraqi situation.
Most Turks oppose a war in Iraq. The government has said NATO-member Turkey will not fight Iraq, but cannot afford to remain neutral in the conflict and must stand by its strategic ally, the United States.
In a televised address to the nation, Gul said Saturday that "any war in Iraq will not be Turkey's war."
"But we will also not let Turkey be faced with a situation where our country's economy, our state's security and our people's welfare are harmed," Gul said.
Gul said Turkey would continue working for a peaceful solution to the standoff and said he was in contact with U.N. and world leaders to discuss Iraq. Gul spoke by telephone with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and NATO chief Lord Robertson late Friday.
Although Turkey is a NATO member, several other alliance members are hesitant to deploy NATO equipment in the country ahead of a possible war. NATO members have until Monday to oppose giving Ankara access to the equipment or keep their objection silent, thereby allowing military preparations to proceed automatically.
France on Friday strongly hinted it may oppose any deployment, arguing that it would give the wrong signal while U.N. efforts to avert war against Iraq continued.