WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Colin Powell will ask Turkey for coalition support — again.
Powell landed in Turkey's capital Ankara Tuesday for meetings with officials there on Wednesday. He is expected to ask Turkey to help sustain the current U.S. operation in northern Iraq and to make sure that they don't send Turkish troops over the border in the event of a Kurdish exodus.
"That is pretty much under control and we don't see anything that would require such an incursion," Powell said toward the end of a nine-hour flight from Washington. "And I hope to come to a complete understanding tomorrow."
The Turks are particularly sensitive about the porous border with Iraq after spending decades trying to fend off Kurdish terrorists who used Iraqi soil as a base for launching operations against Turkey in an effort to carve out a homeland from a portion of Turkey's southeast region.
After Turkey arrested the leader of the terrorist group in 2000, attacks essentially ended.
Turkey does not want to see a resurgence of those attacks and that was partly responsible — along with a 95 percent public opinion rate against war — for the Turkish Parliament's decision last month to refuse to allow coalition troops to operate from Turkey's air bases. Turkey did allow overflight rights for coalition combat aircraft.
Nevertheless, Powell told reporters prior to his arrival in Ankara that President Bush promised Turkey $1 billion in additional aid, included in the war supplemental budget, in order to help Turkey deal with longtime economic woes, many the result of the first Persian Gulf War.
That's substantially less than the $6 billion promised to Turkey when it was still considering whether to let U.S. troops on Turkish soil.
"The requests would not go to the level of the kind of request we were looking at a month or so ago," Powell said, adding that the Pentagon is looking for other forms of Turkish assistance in the war with Iraq, including perhaps humanitarian relief.
Still, the $1 billion in aid faced sharp scrutiny in Congress Tuesday as lawmakers reviewed the president's war funding request. The House and Senate appropriation panels passed an even larger version of the president's $74.7 billion request, but not without some debate over whether Turkey should get the $1 billion or not.
Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, R-Calif., said he thought the money should be redirected to homeland security.
Turkey has "cost American and allied blood and time and money," Cunningham said.
But opponents on the panel, who defeated the amendment by voice vote, said that alienating Turkey right now is inappropriate, particularly as it has been a close U.S. ally since the end of World War II.
"Go to any member of the Congress and say, 'If your district is 95 percent opposed to something, how likely are you to go out and there and champion it?'" asked former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Fox News analyst, who blamed the State Department for failing to make the case to Turkey for war. "You can't ask people in a democracy to go out and commit suicide just because they like you."
Despite that, Gingrich said he thought Powell would make a clear case to keep Turks out of Iraq.
As for Powell, he remained optimistic about the war in general.
"There is no doubt in my mind that we will prevail," he said. "But I cannot tell you how long that will take."
Powell will also visit Belgrade and Brussels on his three day European trip. He will extend to Serbia and Montenegro President Svetozar Marovic and Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic "our support for the country as they go through this difficult time and let them know we are with them."
Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic was assassinated last month in what was considered a severe blow to evolution to democracy in what remains of the former Yugoslavia.