- The Washington Times - Friday, July 25, 2003

Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul yesterday denied that his country was demanding major reconstruction contracts for Turkish businesses in neighboring Iraq as the price for sending badly needed troops to bolster the U.S.-led peacekeeping mission there.

Mr. Gul, wrapping up two days of talks with senior Bush administration officials, said his government was still considering a Pentagon request to send thousands of Turkish troops to help police Iraq, but made clear that Turkish special forces stationed in Iraq’s Kurdish-dominated north would remain in place until the U.S.-led coalition established full authority in the region.

“Whether intentionally or from ignorance, there has been this image put forth that Turkey is bargaining for everything,” Mr. Gul told a gathering yesterday at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think tank.

“It was not true during the Iraq war and it is not true now,” he said.

The Washington Post reported Thursday that Mr. Gul had explicitly tied Turkey’s participation in a peacekeeping force to economic and business contracts for Turkish firms, arguing such promises were needed to win parliamentary approval for the mission.

The Turkish diplomat said his country was ready and able to supply basic services such as water and electricity for Iraq, but that major reconstruction and infrastructure contracts “were a matter for private companies,” not the government.

Mr. Gul met with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Vice President Dick Cheney. He was the highest ranking Turkish official to visit Washington since the traditionally close bilateral relationship suffered unprecedented strains after Ankara’s refusal in March to allow U.S. troops to deploy through Turkey for the Iraq campaign.

Relations were damaged further by the July 4 detention of 11 Turkish soldiers in northern Iraq by U.S. troops, an incident that Mr. Gul yesterday called “unfortunate” and “not acceptable.” The soldiers were released after fierce Turkish protests, but questions still surround the mission of the arrested soldiers and the circumstances of their arrest.

Mr. Powell on Thursday pressed for a quick decision by Turkey on the peacekeeping mission, but the issue is a sensitive one for Ankara.

The Iraq war was deeply unpopular, and the new government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan faces a deep economic crisis and concerns that prolonged instability in Iraq could revive separatist feelings among Turkey’s own restive Kurdish minority.

U.S. officials have not released details of the request made to Turkey’s government, but it is expected that any Turkish contingent would not be deployed in the north, for fear of arousing new ethnic tensions.

“I think the request was made in full consideration of how Turkey and Turkish troops could contribute to stability in Iraq and not lead to any complications,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said yesterday.

Repairing the U.S.-Turkish alliance could face further strains as the Bush administration pressures other Middle East regimes in the war on terrorism.

Even as the United States has increased pressure on Syria in recent weeks, officials in Turkey announced yesterday that Syrian Prime Minister Mustapha Miro would go to Ankara next week for two days of high-level talks, the first visit by a Syrian prime minister to the Turkish capital since 1986.

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