- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 25, 2003

ANKARA, Turkey Turkey's Cabinet agreed yesterday to host tens of thousands of U.S. combat troops, a key step toward allowing Washington to forge ahead with plans for a northern front against Iraq.
Government spokesman Abdullatif Sener said the measure was being sent to parliament. A vote today is widely expected, but passage of the bill is not certain.
The Cabinet decision comes after weeks of tense U.S.-Turkish negotiations. Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis warned that final details of a U.S.-Turkish agreement are still being worked out and the motion could be delayed until those negotiations are concluded.
In a sign of how contentious a U.S. troop deployment is in Turkey, Mr. Sener said that many ministers had reservations.
"An important part of our ministers did not find the developments satisfactory. But after negotiations, the decision of sending the authorization to the parliament was made," Mr. Sener said.
"In the end, the ministers unanimously endorsed to send it to parliament," he said.
The Cabinet motion calls on parliament to allow the deployment of U.S. troops and authorize Turkish soldiers to enter Iraq.
The deputy chairman of the ruling Justice and Development Party, which has a large majority in parliament, said he expected parliamentary approval, but gave no date for a vote.
"There will not be a problem," legislator Reha Denemec said. "The government approves it."
The announcement comes as U.S. ships loaded with tanks and other arms are waiting off the Turkish coast.
Washington wants to use Turkey to open a northern front to divide the Iraqi army. Other U.S. troops will advance from Kuwait. But for weeks Turkey had been holding out for a better aid package to compensate for any Turkish losses in a war.
The deadlock was finally broken late last week, when Washington offered Turkey $5 billion in aid and $10 billion in loans to cushion the Turkish economy from the impact of any war.
A U.S. official said talks were expected to continue through yesterday.
The Bush administration has been putting enormous pressure on Turkey to pass a basing agreement.
"Negotiations to reach an agreement on the military, political and economic issues have reached an important stage," Mr. Sener said. "However, they are still continuing. But to have kept the process any longer would not have been very healthy, therefore it was decided to send the authorization to parliament today."
An overwhelming majority of Turks oppose any war in neighboring Iraq, fearing that it would further weaken Turkey's already fragile economy.
In addition to aid, Turkish leaders have demanded assurances that the fall of Iraq's Saddam Hussein will not lead to the creation of an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq. A Kurdish state, Turkey fears, would boost aspirations of Turkey's Kurdish rebels.
To prevent this, Turkey wants to send tens of thousands of troops into northern Iraq in the event of war. Ankara fears that a war will push hundreds of thousands of refugees toward Turkey.


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