- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 22, 2003

ANKARA, Turkey, Feb. 22 (UPI) — Turkey's prime minister Saturday did not make his expected declaration whether Turkey would allow U.S. forces to use its airfields and other military facilities against Iraq, but Turkish and U.S. officials both said the two sides are close to a deal.

An agreement is "not yet finalized, but we are very close," Yakis told reporters in Ankara. The next step, expected Tuesday, would send it to Parliament for final approval, as Turkey's constitution requires.

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The U.S. ambassador in Ankara, Robert Pearson, described the exchange as a "very good process" after visiting the Foreign Ministry twice Saturday. "Atmosphere is what you would expect between close allies," he said.

The talks have focused on two components on any agreement: the nature and extent of U.S. military access and coordination with Turkish forces; and an aid package to compensate for what Turkey says would be economical damage and possible attacks in the event of war across its southeastern border with Iraq.

Sources close to the talks in Ankara told United Press International that the military negotiations are essentially complete and are at the stage of a memorandum of understanding, often abbreviated as MOU. Economic and political issues were still being discussed but did restart Saturday after being cut off on Thursday.

Tayyip Erdogan, the head of Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party, said Saturday that if Turkey's requests are met there wd be no more delay in nailing down an agreement. Erdogan leads the moderate Islamic party, known by its Turkish initials AK, but is unable to hold the office of prime minister because he was convicted of inciting religious hatred under a previous government. Abdullah Gul is prime minister.

In any military action against Iraq, Turkish soldiers will be stationed in northern Iraq not far away from the border and will be commanded by a Turk, most probably by a general. The U.S. soldiers will be stationed far away from the Turks, according to officials. The coordination between the Turks and the United States will be conducted through headquarters to be set up at Turkish southeastern city of Diyarbakir and Qatar, they said.

The thorny issue of Iraqi Kurds, which do not come under the military subheading, is still being discussed, they said. The region of northern Iraq known as Iraqi Kurdistan achieved virtual autonomy — if not an actual state — from Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein after the 1991 Gulf War, and is currently protected by U.S. and British fighters as part of the northern no-fly zone.

Turkey sees the recent, unprecedented prosperity and self-government in Iraqi Kurdistan as a dangerous lure for its own Kurds, who number about one-fifth of its population. Thus Turkey has insisted that any arming of the Iraqi Kurds would take place under its surveillance, as would disarming them after the war.

Turkey's most recent Kurdish uprising was driven in the mid-1980s by left-wing extremists known as the Kurdistan Workers Party, or commonly as its Turkish initials PKK. Their brutal fight to separate Turkish Kurdistan from the rest of Turkey was squelched with equal ruthlessness by the Turkish military, and PKK members fled to Iraq.

Turkey fears any weapons given Iraqi Kurds would end up in the hands of the PKK again, as happened after the Gulf War. Foreign Minister Yakis said in an interview Friday that the issue of disarming of the Iraqi Kurds after the war is concerned with Turkey's legal security rights.

"This is also to the advantage of the U.S.," he said, adding that heavy weapons in northern Iraq would upset the security balance in the area.

He said likewise Turkey do not want the Iraqi cities of Mosul and Kirkuk to get into the hands of "other elements," adding that the United States would take the control of these regions. The cities, to which Turkey also claims historical ties, rest on substantial oil resources that could give the autonomous Kurds an economic viability — another advance that Turkey does not want happen.

Yakis refrained from giving a number of Turkish troops who would enter into northern Iraq but said the number will surpass the number of the U.S. troops.

In a related development, the United States today reportedly accepted Turkey's request to have a Turkish representative in the "transitional administration" expected for any post-Saddam government.


(With contributions from Derk Kinnane in Washington.)

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