Turkey's cabinet approves U.S. deployment as talks continue

Tuesday, February 25, 2003

ANKARA Turkey's cabinet, under heavy pressure from the Bush administration, has approved the deployment of up to 40,000 U.S. troops.

On Monday, the Cabinet of Prime Minister Abdullah Gul approved Washington's request for the immediate deployment of U.S. troops in any war against Iraq. Officials said the Cabinet sent the decision to parliament for a vote expected by Wednesday. Nevertheless intense, late-night negotiations continued.

Officials said parliament is likely to approve the U.S. request. The Gul coalition has the support of nearly two-thirds of parliament.

At least four U.S. warships are waiting off the Turkish coast to unload tanks, armored personnel carriers for their deployment along the Iraqi border. At the same time, a U.S. military delegation is preparing to modernize the Turkish air force base at Batman in the Anatolia region.

A Turkish military source said the U.S. deployment at Batman would be long-term and provide Washington with a deep-strike capability throughout the Middle East and Central Asia.

The Gul government had insisted that it would not approve U.S. military deployment until full agreement is reached on a multi-billion compensation package.

"Efforts to reach a consensus with the United States are still continuing," Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Abdullatif Sener said.

[In Washington, the United States welcomed the decision by Turkey's Cabinet. "There are still some additional 't's to be crossed and 'i's to be dotted, but nevertheless, this is a very serious matter and the democratic country of Turkey has taken it seriously, has responded seriously, has listened carefully, and we're working together," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. "And that's where it stands for now."]

A Turkish official said Ankara has reduced its compensation aid request from Washington. The official said Turkey now wants $5 billion in grants and $10 billion in loans from the United States.

Still, the compensation package has not been resolved. One obstacle, officials said, is a request by Ankara for billions of dollars on the eve of a war against Iraq in what they termed "bridge credit."

Turkish Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis said Turkey could not wait until Congress is asked to vote on Ankara's aid request, which could take months. He did not say how much money Ankara wanted immediately.

"But in two months the war could already be over," Yakis said.

The source said the use of Batman would differ from that of the air force base at Incerlik, the launching pad for British and U.S. air patrols of the no-fly zone in northern Iraq.

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