ISTANBUL, Turkey – The foreign minister on Sunday said Turkish lawmakers were likely to vote early this week on basing tens of thousands of U.S. combat troops in the country to open a northern front if the United States goes to war with Iraq.
"The probability is high," Yasar Yakis said of the expected Tuesday vote. He said 15 outstanding issues in negotiations with Washington on the economic, political and military conditions of the deployment should be resolved by then.
Yakis spoke in a television interview as Turkish and U.S. officials resumed talks in Ankara. After a meeting at Turkey's foreign ministry, U.S. Ambassador Robert Pearson said the talks were continuing positively but gave no details.
Parliament must authorize any deployment of foreign troops in Turkey.
Turkey and the United States have been negotiating for weeks on a multibillion-dollar aid package as well as on the future of Iraq. Turks are particularly worried that the fall of Saddam Hussein will lead to the creation of a Kurdish state in northern Iraq, which in turn could embolden independence-minded Kurds in Turkey.
Turks are overwhelmingly opposed to any war in Iraq and lawmakers are expected to be under intense pressure from their constituencies not to approve the American troop presence. The governing Justice and Development Party has a large majority in parliament.
Yakis said that Turkish officials were working to reach an agreement that could be approved by the legislators.
Ships carrying tanks for the U.S. Army's 4th Infantry Division are already waiting off the Turkish coast, and U.S. officials say they are concerned that Turkish foot-dragging could delay war plans. If Turkey refuses the U.S. request, the supplies would be moved to the Gulf to strengthen U.S. forces in that region.
The foreign minister denied reports that the main obstacle to an agreement were continuing disputes over the aid package.
"The economic issues are not the most important," Yakis said.
On Saturday, a government official said Turkey had agreed to $5 billion in grants and $10 billion in loans, but Yakis said some other issues were still pending, such as an immediate "bridge credit" to be handed over at the start of the war because U.S. congressional approval for the aid package could take weeks.
"Damage to (the Turkish economy) will start the day the button is pushed: the stock exchange will go down, the interest rates will go up. We need fresh money to be injected into the economy that day," Yakis said.
Yakis also said that Turkish and U.S. officials were still discussing the relaxation of textile quotas.
Yakis said there were three main outstanding military issues still being discussed: who would command Turkish troops entering northern Iraq, disarmament after a war of Iraqi Kurdish groups, and the control of the northern Iraqi oil fields at Kirkuk and Mosul.
Turkey is determined to have troops in northern Iraq under its control, and wants to supervise the armament and disarmament of the Kurdish groups to avoid the weapons falling in the hands of Turkish Kurdish rebels that have bases in northern Iraq.
Turkey also wants U.S. troops to take over the Kirkuk and Mosul oil fields as soon as an attack on Iraq is launched to prevent Kurdish groups getting them, Yakis said.