- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 11, 2003

ANKARA, Turkey Turkey granted permission yesterday to the U.S. military to inspect Turkish ports and air bases in preparation for any offensive against Iraq, but held off granting approval for a massive deployment of American troops.

The survey of Turkish ports and airfields, which is to start Monday, will be done by a U.S. military team of 150 persons and will last 10 days, according to the Turkish military.

The deal, approved by Prime Minister Abdullah Gul and formally signed yesterday by U.S. and Turkish military officials, is a key first step toward an increased U.S. military presence in Turkey in the event of a war with Iraq.

Turkey, a NATO ally, has been reluctant to support any military operation against its neighbor, especially since polls show that more than 80 percent of the public is against a war.

It is not clear how much time it will take before a final decision is made on basing U.S. troops in the country. In addition, any final approval would have to be endorsed by parliament, where it is likely to face serious opposition.

Turkey first agreed in principle to let U.S. teams survey its facilities more than a month ago, but the inspections were delayed over a disagreement on the legal status of the U.S. personnel who would carry out the inspections.

The approval of the base inspections comes amid repeated reports that the United States was becoming increasingly frustrated over the delays and top Turkish generals have warned that Turkey's relationship with Washington was in jeopardy.

"Everything is under control, it is true. I have signed the decision," Mr. Gul told reporters.

The decision is almost certain to be welcomed in Washington.

The Turkish government said earlier that it is holding off a decision on the use of its bases and territory until United Nations weapons inspectors issue a report on their progress later this month.

Yesterday, Mr. Gul sent a letter appealing to Iraq to comply with U.N. resolutions to ward off war. Trade Minister Kursad Tuzmen arrived in Baghdad with the letter, as well as a trade delegation of 350 businessmen, Reuters news agency reported.

Turkey acted as a springboard for strikes against Iraq in the 1991 Persian Gulf war and its support would again be crucial to any new attack. U.S. planners looking to surround central Iraq the Sunni Muslim heartland that is a critical pillar of support for Saddam Hussein's regime are hoping to use Turkish bases for a northern strike against Iraq that would join a southern thrust from the Gulf.

The Turkish government also is concerned about the economic effect of war and the likely independence of Iraq's Kurds, who might then encourage Turkey's restive Kurdish population.

Turkish newspapers reported that the United States had asked for Turkish permission to deploy up to 80,000 troops and about 5,000-to-6,000 commandos to be sent into northern Iraq.

U.S. officials have not given any specifics about Turkish cooperation but said the United States was looking to invest up to hundreds of millions of dollars to upgrade Turkish military bases that could be used in a war with Iraq.

The United States already has about 50 warplanes at Incirlik Air Base in south-central Turkey. These planes enforce a no-fly zone over northern Iraq.

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