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Turkey gets $3 billion, allows U.S. to use its bases

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Wednesday, December 4, 2002

ANKARA Turkey has approved a U.S. request to use its military bases for a possible campaign against Iraq in exchange for the promise of more than $3 billion in aid from Washington.

Turkish leaders agreed to the U.S. use of Turkey's air space and military bases in any offensive against the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. The leaders said Washington would first require United Nations endorsement, but officials said this condition appears flexible.

"If it comes to that, then of course, we will cooperate with the United States because it's a big ally and we have excellent relations with the United States," Turkish Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis said on Tuesday. "What we mean by cooperation is opening air bases and opening facilities to use. The military authorities of the two countries are consulting on the assumption that such a cooperation may be necessary one day."

The Turkish offer of cooperation came during the visit of a senior U.S. delegation to Ankara led by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman.

Officials said the Bush administration has offered Turkey $3.4 billion in aid. The package consists of about $2.5 billion in military aid and the rest in a low-interest credit. Other elements in the military package include Washington's pledge to transfer unspecified technology and grant licenses for U.S. defense systems.

Yakis said Ankara would also allow U.S. fighter-jets to launch strikes against Iraq from Turkish air bases. He did not say whether Turkey would fly combat missions against Iraqi targets, but other officials said Washington has asked Ankara for 35,000 soldiers to help contain northern Iraq and its Kurdish and Turkmen populations. Yakis said the deployment of tens of thousands of American troops in Turkey is a scenario he found difficult to envision.

Hours later, the Turkish Foreign Ministry appeared to backtrack from Yakis's assurances to Washington. The statement said Yakis's words did not comprise a "commitment on the part of Turkey, because these possibilities have not been the subject of discussion with any country."

Wolfowitz provided assurances of U.S. support for its longtime ally. "U.S.-Turkish cooperation is serious ... If there is a crisis in this region, we know that Turkey is going to be one of the countries the most affected. We want to make sure we deal with that."

Wolfowitz also met Turkish military commanders and senior defense officials. A Turkish military statement said the issues discussed included the future of Cyprus, Iraq, European Union defense policies and strategic relations between Ankara and Washington.

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