WASHINGTON – Turkey's government "didn't quite know what it was doing" in failing to win parliamentary approval to allow U.S. troops the right to use its territory to invade Iraq, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said Thursday.
Wolfowitz described Turkey's decision as a "big, big mistake" but also acknowledged the United States had asked a lot of Turkey and noted that Turkey has granted overflight rights to American planes.
Appearing before the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, Wolfowitz defended President Bush's request for $1 billion in aid to Turkey, part of a $74.7 billion war spending bill. The United States had planned to give Turkey a $6 billion aid package if it allowed the invasion from its territory.
"Turkey's economy is in difficult circumstances and that is not good for us," he said. Turkey is a secular Muslim nation and a member of the NATO military alliance.
The United States had hoped to invade Iraq from Turkey, to the north, and Kuwait, from the south. But Turkey's parliament refused to allow U.S. troops to use the country's territory. The United States this week parachuted about 1,000 Army troops into Kurdish-held northern Iraq to open a northern front.
Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Kan., asked Wolfowitz how much Turkey's decision cost the United States.
Wolfowitz said the monetary cost is "not trivial," but the real cost is in not having a heavy combat division in northern Iraq.
"There's no question if we had a U.S. armored force in northern Iraq right now, the end (of the war) would be closer," he said.
He said the Turkish government came close to win parliamentary support for the use of its territory.
"It was a new government that I think didn't quite know what it was doing," he said. "It was a big, big mistake."
He said Turkey would have benefited from the $6 billion aid package. "And that's clearly gone," he said.
But he said Turkey has "stepped up" by permitting overflight rights to the United States. He noted Turkey is the only NATO ally that borders Iraq.
"Overflight of Turkey is a very big thing and they gave it to us unconditionally," he said.
He said the $1 billion is needed to help Turkey deal with economic losses caused by the war, such as damage to its tourism business. In the long run, he said, the war will benefit Turkey because it will open new trade opportunities with an Iraq free of international sanctions.