The bottom line
US-Turkey relations took a turn for the worse last week as Ankara urged Washington to offer it more money in compensation for economic losses resulting from a war on Iraq. Gareth Jenkins reports
In the run-up to the Eid Al-Adha holiday, Turkish Prime Minister Abdullah Gul had promised that the Turkish Parliament would convene Tuesday to approve a memorandum to permit US troops to deploy through Turkey into northern Iraq. On Monday Gul backtracked, saying that parliamentary approval was not imminent.
"A government in a democratic country would like to obtain the result it seeks when it takes a bill to parliament. For this to happen it would like to see measures having been taken to wipe away the worries of the deputies that will vote on it," he said.
Opinion polls suggest that more than 94 per cent of Turks oppose US plans to launch a military campaign to oust Saddam Hussein. If the memorandum allowing US troops into Turkey had been presented to parliament Tuesday, 40-50 members of the ruling Justice and Development Party (JDP) were expected to have opposed it. However, with 363 seats in the 550-seat unicameral parliament, the JDP would still have had little difficulty in passing the motion.
Turkish and US sources indicate that after weeks of intense negotiations, the two sides have now reached agreement on a range of political and military issues related to the deployment of US troops into northern Iraq for use in a possible second front against Baghdad. They have even agreed on the deployment of a brigade of Turkish troops, nominally under joint US-Turkish command, in the three predominantly Kurdish provinces in northern Iraq, so as to prevent the establishment of an independent Kurdish state following the overthrow of Saddam. But the sticking point has been money.
Ankara insists that in return for allowing US troops to transit Turkish territory on their way to Iraq, Washington must provide Turkey with a massive package of financial aid. US sources indicate that Washington has provisionally agreed to provide some $20 billion to $21 billion of which $6 billion would be a grant, including writing off $2 billion of Turkey's debts to the US, with $14 billion to $15 billion in loans and loan guarantees. Turkey, however, is holding out for a total package of around $30 billion, of which $12 billion is a grant.
The implication that Turkey's support can be bought has triggered a furious reaction by many nationalists.
"Turkey is not and cannot be for sale," said veteran ultra- nationalist journalist Altemur Kilic. "If we support the US in an operation against Iraq, it should be on a point of principle or because it serves our national interests; not for money."
But the JDP government appears unfazed. Government officials now say that the memorandum permitting the transit of US troops will probably not be submitted to parliament for at least another week.
"If the memorandum is not underpinned by a satisfactory commitment [from the US], how can we submit it to parliament?" asked Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis.
The Turkish government's failure to deliver on its commitment to push through the memorandum straight after Eid Al-Adha has infuriated Washington, particularly after the split in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) over military assistance to Turkey against a possible missile attack by Iraq. Turkey's request earlier this month for NATO to supply it with Patriot anti-missile defence systems had been blocked by France, Germany and Belgium, who argued that approving the deployment would be tantamount to accepting that war was inevitable. After the most damaging rift in NATO history, the stand-off was finally resolved on Monday when NATO Chief Lord Robertson, heavily backed by the US, pushed a military assistance package through the NATO Defence Planning Committee, from which France, the main opponent of the deal, is excluded. The package foresees the deployment to Turkey of Patriot systems, early warning AWACS planes and defences against biological and chemical weapons.
Privately, US officials are furious that, after they lobbied so hard to ensure that Turkey had the protection it wanted, the Turkish government is now prevaricating over US troops in order to try to squeeze more money out of Washington. US military planners insist that unless they are sure Turkey will allow US troops into northern Iraq, they cannot draw up detailed plans for a military campaign. While US troops and equipment, including a fleet already in the eastern Mediterranean, are now being forced to wait. Some US officials are even warning that unless Turkey makes a commitment soon, Washington may abandon the idea of opening a second front altogether and send the forces now waiting off the Turkish coast to the Gulf to reinforce the US troops massed there in preparation for an attack on Iraq from the south.
"We are talking in terms of hours and days, no more," said one US official. "The ships carrying our forces are now sailing around the eastern Mediterranean waiting for Turkey to make a decision. As far as we are concerned all the bargaining and negotiation is over. We have made our position clear. It is up to Turkey to make its decision."