First Published: 2003-02-18

Turkey makes U-turn against US

Head of Turkey's ruling party throws cold water on US war plans because of row over financial aid.


Middle East Online

By Sibel Utku - ANKARA

Backing for a US-led war is subject to change: Erdogan

Turkey threw US war plans for Iraq into disarray on Tuesday, hinting it might stall the deployment of US troops because of a row over how much money Washington is prepared to offer to offset economic losses resulting from a possible conflict.

The head of Turkey's ruling party, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said Ankara's backing for a US-led war was subject to change if Washington did not meet its demands for billions of dollars in compensation to cover the impact on the fragile Turkish economy.

The threat of an about-face by Ankara follows a bitter split in NATO last week after the United States insisted the alliance begin planning to defend its only Muslim member in case of war, and was met with fierce European resistance.

Erdogan said an earlier vote by parliament giving US forces the green light to begin upgrading their facilities here did not mean Turkish support for war.

"Our American friends should not interpret this decision to mean that Turkey has embarked on an irreversible road," he said, quoted by the Anatolia news agency. "Our counterparts should fulfill our demands."

Some press reports have said Turkey is asking for as much as 50 billion dollars from Washington.

"If we are to act together, if our support is meaningful and necessary to the US, then the US should take into account our sensitivities and consider with good will our demands," Erdogan said.

"Otherwise the partnership and the friendship will turn into constant sacrifices made by one of the sides," he said. "And this is unacceptable."

President Ahmet Necdet Sezer added to the pressure, saying Turkey could not welcome US combat forces without a UN resolution authorising war against its southern neighbor.

"We have been saying from the very beginning that the presence of foreign soldiers in Turkey could be allowed in circumstances considered legitimate by international law," Sezer said.

"In order to have a situation deemed legitimate under international law, we believe there should be a Security Council resolution other than Resolution 1441," he said.

The president has largely ceremonial powers and cannot stop parliament from approving the deployment of US troops.

But the show of reluctance from Ankara comes as Washington faces strong opposition in the European Union and on the UN Security Council, notably from France and Germany, over its push for a war to oust Saddam.

Ankara's anxiety stems from the 1991 Gulf war against Iraq, in which Turkey backed the US-led coalition that forced Saddam's troops out of Kuwait.

Turkey says it lost up to 40 billion dollars in trade after the United Nations slapped embargoes on Baghdad after the war, and accuses Washington of failing to deliver promised compensation.

Press reports here have said Washington has offered around six billion dollars in grants and up to 20 billion dollars in loan guarantees.

US and British warplanes already use air bases in Turkey to patrol a no-fly zone over northern Iraq that has kept the region out of Baghdad's control since the 1991 war.

But Ankara says the no-fly zone has boosted independence aspirations among local Kurds and provided Turkish Kurdish rebels with a safe haven and a springboard for attacks on Turkey.

Washington and Ankara are also at odds over who would command troops Turkey wants to send into northern Iraq to prevent independence moves by Kurds and stop an influx of refugees.


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