ISTANBUL, Turkey – The leader of Turkey's governing party summoned lawmakers Wednesday in an attempt to persuade them to agree to let in more than 60,000 U.S. troops for a possible war with Iraq.
The prospect of a war is extremely unpopular in Turkey, and Justice and Development Party leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan faces a difficult political battle. Some lawmakers are already hinting that they will vote against a troop authorization bill.
But Washington is demanding a quick answer. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell called Turkish Prime Minister Abdullah Gul Tuesday night and emphasized that time was running out for Turkey to makes its decision, the Anatolia news agency reported.
U.S. ships carrying tanks and armor for the U.S. 4th Infantry Division are already off the Turkish coast, and some 500 military vehicles have been unloaded in the southern port of Iskenderun.
Erdogan told reporters after a break in the meeting's morning session that a vote would not be held Wednesday, the Anatolia news agency reported.
Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis said "it is not clear" if legislators would allow in U.S. troops if a vote was quickly held.
A proposal backed by the Cabinet would also authorize the deployment of 255 U.S. warplanes and 65 helicopters in Turkey.
Before the meeting, Erdogan said lawmakers would not be bound to vote as a bloc. However, he also said he expected lawmakers to back the government.
"I believe you will make the final decision and take your steps without the need for a group decision," Erdogan said Tuesday.
Although Erdogan has a comfortable majority in parliament, some 60 deputies in his Islamic-rooted party oppose authorizing the basing of U.S. troops, according to reports. The Justice Party has 362 seats in the 550-member legislature.
"We are not happy, we are troubled; it is a difficult situation," Anatolia quoted lawmaker Kemalettin Goktas as saying as he entered the meeting.
But Dengir Mir Firat, another legislator, said only a few deputies would vote against the motion.
"The country's interests are in question," he said.
U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz also said Tuesday that time is running short for Turkey to approve the proposal.
"We're very close to the go/no-go point," Wolfowitz said on the Fox News Channel.
Most analysts predict the measure will pass. Although many Cabinet members expressed reservations about the bill, all signed the proposal.
Rejecting the bill would almost certainly mean losing U.S. support at a time when Turkey is starting to emerge from a deep recession.
Washington's support has been crucial in winning loans from the International Monetary Fund, and the United States has pushed Turkey's candidacy for the European Union.
U.S. and Turkish negotiators have been hammering out a multibillion-dollar U.S. aid package of loans and grants that would ease the economic impact of a war.
Parliament is not expected to vote before U.S. and Turkish negotiators have reached final agreement on the military, political, and economic terms of a deployment. U.S. and Turkish delegations resumed negotiations at 5:30 a.m. Wednesday. Diplomats say the economic package includes $5 billion in grants and $10 billion in loans.
Sticking points have included the command structure in northern Iraq where Turkey plans to deploy its own troops, the future government of Iraq, and the size of the aid package.
The legislation before parliament would also allow tens of thousands of Turkish troops to enter northern Iraq in case of war. Turkey fears refugees could flood into the country and worries that Iraqi Kurds could declare an independent state, spurring Kurdish rebels in Turkey to renew their 15-year battle in southeastern Turkey.
Meanwhile, a Dutch ship Wednesday unloaded the first Patriot missile battery in the Mediterranean port of Iskenderun. Trucks carrying the surface-to-air missiles moved into a nearby naval base. Camouflage nets were seen on the top of some of the trucks.
The Netherlands is sending three batteries of Patriots to help Turkey in case of an attack by Iraq. The missiles will be operated by 370 Dutch Air Force troops.