ANKARA, Turkey – The Turkish parliament moved Thursday to delay until Saturday a full vote on whether to host more than 60,000 American troops for a possible Iraq war, Reuters reported. The reason for the delay was not clear.
Earlier Thursday, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the leader of the ruling Justice and Development Party, urged his party's top legislators to approve the package deal, which would tie the troop deployment to a huge increase in American aid to NATO's only Muslim member.
An anonymous Turkish official said American and Turkish negotiators were close to agreement on the financial and political terms of the deal. The military conditions had been finalized, according to Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul.
Diplomats have been negotiating a multibillion-dollar economic aid package aimed at compensating Turkey for any losses incurred in a war. They are also negotiating the future of Iraq and the military command structure in case of U.S. and Turkish deployment in northern Iraq.
Private NTV television said the two sides had agreed that U.S. officers would arm Kurdish opposition groups in northern Iraq, then disarm them after the war under the supervision of Turkish officers.
Turkey had opposed proposals to arm the Kurds, fearing that increased military strength would encourage them to create their own state. That could in turn, inspire Turkey's own Kurdish minority.
Turkey's Cabinet has already backed the deployment of 62,000 U.S. troops, 255 warplanes and 65 helicopters and sent a bill to parliament for approval.
On Thursday, Erdogan held a round of talks with Justice and Development's legislators to try to persuade them to back the government's proposal to allow the U.S. troops in.
Erdogan said that, barring any extraordinary development, the deployment would be debated in parliament on Thursday. Erdogan's party has 362 seats in the 550-member parliament.
Asked whether the deployment would be approved, Erdogan said: "I trust my friends."
Although leader of the ruling party, Erdogan, a moderate Islamist, is barred from serving in Parliament due to a conviction for "inciting religious hatred" in staunchly secular Turkey. He is seen as the real power behind Prime Minister Abdullah Gul and is often treated abroad as a de facto head of government.
Washington wants to use Turkey as a staging point to open a northern front and divide the Iraqi army between the north and the south. U.S. officials say they need a decision from Turkey as soon as possible.
U.S. warships carrying tanks and armor for the U.S. 4th Infantry Division have been waiting off Turkey's coast to unload for more than a week. Were Turkey's parliament to reject the bill, the ships would have to travel to the Persian Gulf.
War in Iraq is very unpopular among Turks, and many Justice and Development Party lawmakers have said they oppose any Turkish participation in an attack.
The government says Turkey cannot afford to alienate its most important ally, the United States, and be left out of the decision-making on Iraq's future.
Meanwhile, Turkey prepared for possible Iraqi retaliation for a U.S. invasion from Turkey. Ankara asked NATO for more Patriot anti-missile batteries and equipment for protection against biological and chemical weapon attacks, while the first NATO equipment — Patriot missiles and AWACS radar aircraft — arrived in Turkey Wednesday.
Turkey also evacuated its Baghdad embassy, and on Thursday urged all its citizens to leave Iraq.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.