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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Turkey resisting U.S. demands to X-ray containers bound for U.S.

ANKARA — Turkey and the United States are clashing over border security procedures.

Officials said Turkey has rejected a U.S. demand for equipment to screen containers destined for the United States. They said Washington has required X-ray and other equipment to certify the Turkish port of Izmir as safe for the re-export of goods to the United States.

Officials acknowledge widespread corruption in Turkish ports. A Turkish police report in late 2007 asserted that heroin and illegal migrants routinely enter through Turkish ports, including its largest one in Istanbul. At Mersin, thousands of containers were said to have avoided inspection in 2008.

"We are exporting our own system and installing a similar one in Azerbaijan," a Turkish official said. "Turkey sets the standard in customs security in the region."

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Officials said the Turkish Customs Agency has opposed the U.S. demand to install a special X-ray machine in Izmir. The machine would screen containers shipped from Izmir to the United States.

Izmir's port of Alsancak contains an inspection hangar and an X-ray machine, certified by the European Union. Alsancak, based along Turkey's Aegean Sea, has been the main port for goods to the United States.

"What good would another X-ray machine do?" the official asked. "We made the investment and the European Union regards the current system as successful."

Others in the Turkish government have advocated honoring the U.S. request. They said the U.S. equipment would facilitate rapid processing of Turkish containers in the port of New York, a move meant to reduce costs.

"If the United States installs its machine, American officials will check the ships destined for the U.S. with the permission of Turkish officials or together with them," Nazim Butun, the head of the Customs Department in Izmir, said. "They will also put a security stamp on checked containers so that no time is lost at ports in the United States."

Baki Simsek, chairman of the Association of Customs Agents in Mersin, said Turkey employs 700 customs agents. France employs 32,000 customs agents.

"Even if they were all the best and most honest in the world, there simply aren't enough of them to be able to secure Turkey's borders," Simsek said.

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