Turkey reportedly rejects Iranian deal to shut Iraqi pipeline

Turkey is understood to have turned down a suggestion by Iran that it cut off Iraq's only operating oil pipeline. A Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman categorically denied rumors that Iran would pay Turkey $1 billion if it closed the Kirkuk-Iskenderun pipeline, which is vital to the financing of Iraq's war effort against Iran.

''This is unimaginable,'' said a senior Turkish official. ''Turkey is determined to pursue her strict neutrality and even-handed policy on the Iran-Iraq conflict. We have all interest in maintaining good relations with both neighbors and we are deploying great efforts to keep them that way.''

Turkey also has a financial interest in keeping the pipeline open. It gets between 25 and 30 percent of its oil imports from Iraq, according to the United States State Department. Growing economic ties with both Iraq and Iran contribute to Ankara's desire to maintain neutrality.

Iraq's other oil export pipeline was shut down in 1982 by Syria, which backs Iran in the war.

Iran's offer was apparently made for the first time during Prime Minister Turgut Ozal's visit to Tehran in early May. There are indications that Iran repeated the offer after Iraq attacked a Turkish oil tanker near Iran's strategic Kharg Island in the Persian Gulf early this month.

The attack on the Turkish vessel led to speculation that Ankara might cut off the pipeline if Iraq would not guarantee free navigation of Turkish tankers to and from Kharg Island.

Instead, the Turkish government adopted a calm attitude in public, issuing statements that emphasized its interest in continuing a balanced policy.

Iraq has reportedly guaranteed the safety of Turkish tankers sailing into Iraq's declared blockade area around Kharg Island.

Iraq no doubt realizes that unless it provides such a guarantee, it may force the Turks to abandon their neutrality and perhaps try to exert leverage on Iraq by closing the pipeline.

The continuation of the loading of oil at Kharg Island is very important for the Turkish economy as well as for Turkey's trade with Iran, a Turkish Foreign Ministry official says. Nearly half of Turkey's oil imports come from Iran, which has lately become Turkey's top foreign customer.

But there are also political reasons. Turkey does not want to get involved in a conflict that presents dangers of a larger confrontation between foreign powers. Foreign Minister Vahit Halefoglu told the Turkish parliament this week that ''Turkey could not be expected to serve special interests (of other nations) in this region.''

One of Turkey's major fears is that any direct interference by the United States in the Gulf war might not only change the balance of power in the area, but could also drag Turkey into that conflict. The Turks have made it clear that they disapprove of any foreign, including US, interference or any demand for support in the event of interference, such as the granting of military base facilities to US forces.

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