Published February 25, 2003
| Associated Press
ANKARA, Turkey – The Turkish government asked parliament on Tuesday to authorize the deployment of 62,000 U.S. combat troops, 255 warplanes and 65 helicopters, but disagreements on the conditions of the U.S. deployment delayed the vote.
The bill also asks legislators to authorize the deployment of Turkish troops abroad but does not say how many Turkish soldiers would be deployed. Turks want to send their own troops into northern Iraq in case of war.
A vote on the bill could be held as soon as Wednesday, but diplomats said it was unlikely to be scheduled before Turkish and U.S. officials agree on the military, political and economic conditions of the deployment.
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said Tuesday that time is running short for Turkey to agree to base troops on its soil.
"We're very close to the go/no-go point," Wolfowitz said on Fox News Channel.
Washington says it needs Turkey to decide on the deployment as soon as possible to enable the United States to use Turkish soil to open a northern front against Iraq. The northern front is a key part of a U.S. strategy that calls for attacks from the north and south that would divide the Iraqi army.
U.S. Ambassador Robert Pearson told reporters after talks at the foreign ministry on Tuesday that the two sides were making "very significant progress." Pearson said there were still some outstanding issues, but he was optimistic that a solution could be found.
Private television reported that one of the last sticking points was whether the economic aid package of billions of dollars of grants and loans should be under the supervision of the International Monetary Fund.
Diplomats have said the package would include $10 billion in grants and $5 billion in loans. Turkey wants the U.S. aid to be separate from its IMF-backed economic reform program.
In the bill sent to parliament, the government said it had to take precautions in case of war -- in particular to prevent a refugee influx from northern Iraq -- and said the U.S. deployment would "constitute enormous pressure" on Iraq for it to disarm peacefully.
Although peace efforts had not yielded the hoped-for results, the government said it was important that such efforts continue.
Persuading lawmakers of the governing Justice and Development Party to allow in U.S. troops will not be an easy task, and the government underlined that the authorization was for the U.S. troops to deploy outside Turkey "as soon as possible."
The Justice party has a large majority in parliament, but many deputies have repeatedly spoken out against any war in Iraq, a war that an overwhelmingly majority of Turks oppose.
Justice party legislators meet on Wednesday morning to discuss the bill.
In a speech to legislators of his party, party leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan praised Monday's Cabinet decision, saying it was in "the best interest of the nation."
Although Erdogan said he would not order his party's legislators to vote for it, he hinted that he believed legislators would be persuaded to vote in favor.
"I believe you will make the final decision and take your steps without the need for a group decision," Erdogan said.
But Deputy Prime Minister Ertugrul Yalcinbayir hinted that he would vote against allowing the U.S. troops in.
"If it is not approved, democracy would be strengthened," he said.
Political analyst Ilter Turan said the government was likely to "twist as many arms as possible" for the vote to be approved.
On Tuesday, the party reprimanded a legislator for threatening to resign if parliament approves the troop deployment. A reprimand is usually a first step toward being ousted from the party, and Goksal Kucukali said the action against him was intended as a warning to other Justice lawmakers likely to vote against troop deployment.
Among other issues, Turkish and U.S. officials have been discussing the command structure in northern Iraq in case of a war and the disarmament of Iraqi Kurdish groups.
On Tuesday, Iraqi Kurdish officials who control an autonomous zone in northern Iraq condemned the Turkish government bill, saying it would lead to more violence. Iraqi Kurdish factions have warned of clashes if Turkish troops cross the border.
Turkey fears that the fall of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein could lead to the creation of an independent Kurdish state and boost aspirations of Turkey's Kurdish rebels.