Turkey, US rebound from stalemate over aid package

Ankara officials say a deal is close, and the parliament is likely to vote Tuesday on US troop presence.

Cooling a heated standoff between Ankara and Washington, Turkish and American officials grew closer over the weekend to sealing a long-haggled-over deal that will allow US troops to pass through Turkey on their way to Iraq.

Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis says there is "high probability" that a deal might be reached in time for a vote in the Turkish parliament Tuesday, when the ruling AK (Justice and Development) Party could be faced with presenting a blueprint for war to Turkish legislators heavily opposed to a US-led invasion of Iraq.

Officials on both sides confirm that they have made progress toward a deal that would give Turkey a multibillion dollar aid package and a significant role in the aftermath of Saddam Hussein's overthrow - and a potential piece of the military action, something US and Iraqi Kurdish leaders had hoped to avoid when they began drawing up a war strategy months ago.

"The negotiations are progressing in a positive matter, and the parties are trying to be constructive. We need a little more time," says Murat Mercan, the deputy chairman of the leading AK Party.

After Turkey missed Friday's deadline to answer the Bush administration's request to base tens of thousands of troops here and to use Turkish territory for a ground invasion of northern Iraq, underscoring deep divisions between the two cold-war allies, the rhetoric emerging from the two sides has moved from huffy to helpful.

While US officials say that the size of an economic-aid package for Turkey has been the main sticking point in recent days, Turkish political sources say that the aid was not the crucial issue.

"The key thing was not the money, and it was the wrong interpretation of the negotiations for anyone to say so," says Mevlut Cavusoglu, a member of parliament in the AK Party.

He says that the Turkish government wanted several conditions it has now agreed upon with US officials. These include an agreement that Turkey will have a greater number of troops than the number of US troops in northern Iraq, and that these troops will be under Turkish command - not US military command.

Moreover, the military, political, and economic aspects of the deal must be explicitly stated in a written agreement, which was not the Bush administration's preference, Mr. Cavusoglu says.

"We asked the US to make a written agreement and also to have it verified by Congress, and they accepted that," he says.

"We asked for a written agreement, and [it] seemed strange for the US government [not to want one]. Our position was not to hurt the feelings of our ally, but there were a few points that must be negotiated, and we needed to ask what they want to do after a war in Iraq."

Mr. Yakis, the foreign minister, acknowledged in an interview with CNN Turk that one of his country's main goals in Iraq was to prevent it from breaking up into separate ethnic regions - in particular, a Kurdish one that could pave the road to an independent state. Turkey is concerned that any Kurdish entity will reignite separatist warfare among its own Kurds, who make up nearly 20 percent of the population.

"A Kurdistan should not be set up," Yakis said.

Under the economic parameters of the current proposal, Turkey would be awarded approximately $5 billion in grants and $10 billion in loans to aid its already ailing economy - which Turks say suffered enormous shocks from the 1991 Gulf War and subsequent sanctions on trade with neighboring Iraq. Those figures are lower than ones reported in recent weeks that included aid to be given to Turkey over a number of years - up to $26 billion in grants and loans - rather than up front, as Turkey has preferred.

"Things are becoming possible where things were not before, and it was more a case of it becoming clear to the Turkish side that what we said was a final offer, is a final offer," says a Western diplomat who asked not to be named. "There are points after which our ships and planes and people need to be in place somewhere," he says. "There are dozens of little issues which have been resolved, and others are still being negotiated."

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