U.S. presses Turkey as new government balks over bases

Thursday, January 9, 2003

ANKARA The United States has warned Ankara against any further delays in granting final approval to Washington's request for Turkish military bases for a war against Iraq.

Turkish military sources said U.S. diplomats and officials have besieged the Turkish government of Prime Minister Abdullah Gul with clarifications over whether Ankara would allow up to 90,000 U.S. troops to move through Turkey in any war against Iraq. The U.S. request calls for the use of at least six Turkish military bases and sea ports for the war effort.

The Gul government has relayed its agreement in principle to host U.S. troops and aircraft, Middle East Newsline reported. This includes flights of the U-2 reconnaissance aircraft through Turkey and into Iraq.

"Turkish military institutions are quite sensitive on the matter of U.S. troops deployed on home soil," Turkish Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis said.

Turkey's indecision has prevented a U.S. military delegation from inspecting Turkish military bases. Ankara wants the 150-member delegation to be subject to Turkish law during their stay in what is seen as a test case of whether the tens of thousands of other U.S. soldiers will be subject to Turkish law. So far, the United States has withheld such an agreement.

The Bush administration has warned Turkey that it wants an answer within the next two weeks. The chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard Myers, is scheduled to visit Ankara on Jan. 24 to discuss the U.S. deployment.

On Wednesday, a U.S. official was quoted as warning that Washington would end all aid to Ankara unless it cooperated in the war against Iraq. In an interview with the Ankara-based Sabah daily, the unidentified U.S. official said the administration will not consider Turkish interests in a post-Saddam Iraq unless Ankara agrees to Washington's request for military bases.

Turkey has requested up to $25 billion in U.S. aid in exchange for a long-term U.S. military presence. The aid request is said to include a partial forgiving of Ankara's $5 billion military debt to the United States.

"We've been talking with the Turkish authorities about planning," U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said on Wednesday. "We have, I think, received a good reception for our request, and they've been working these things through their system."

On Thursday, Turkish officials said two military aircraft crashed in the southeastern province of Malatya following a mid-air collision in heavy fog. The aircraft were identified as RF-4 reconnaissance planes on a training flight. Officials are investigating the plight of the pilots.

This was the second accident in as many days due to heavy fog in the region. On Wednesday, a Turkish Airlines passenger plane crashed during landing in Diyarbakir, killing 75 people.

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