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Analysis: Turkey Expects To Announce Soon Whether Deal Has Been Reached For U.S. Troop Deployment In Southern Turkey

Morning Edition: February 21, 2003

Turkey, U.S. Troop Deployment Talks Reach Critical Stage

BOB EDWARDS, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Bob Edwards.

Turkey's prime minister said today he expects that in the next few days an agreement will be reached with the United States on the deployment of US troops in southern Turkey. Ankara has been asking more money from Washington to help defray the expected economic fallout from another war in the Persian Gulf. Any deal must be approved by the Turkish parliament. NPR's Guy Raz is in Ankara.

Now what exactly did the prime minister say today?

GUY RAZ reporting:

Well, Bob, Prime Minister Abdullah Gul just finished making an announcement, and he certainly didn't give the impression that the Turks have signed along the dotted line. He did say that they're close to a deal with Washington. He didn't offer any details on what that deal might be, but Gul said that he was confident that, by Monday, everything would be resolved. Now if that's the case, we can expect a vote in parliament to seal the deal pretty soon after, which, for all intents and purposes, a formality at this point; the real approval has to come from the Cabinet and that could now happen over the weekend.

EDWARDS: We were told to expect this by today; now Monday. Why has it taken so long to get this matter resolved?

RAZ: Well, that's right. There were three main issues that the two sides were trying to hash out. One is the security concerns of Turkey if a war breaks out. The second is that Turkey wants some kind of idea, you know, on what a post-Saddam Iraq will look. And the third, of course, is money. Now depending on which side you believe, money may or may not have been the key issue here. Washington was offering Turkey a package of loans and grants worth about $26 billion. Now the Turks were holding out for about $32 billion. We'll have to wait until Monday to find out the details of how much money will actually change hands.

But it's also important to note that no one is Turkey is soliciting troop deployments at all. I mean, nobody here wants it, but the military ties between Washington and Ankara have been so strong over the past five decades that Turkey certainly has had a difficult time saying no to the US on this issue.

EDWARDS: What will Turkey's involvement be in any military campaign against Iraq?

RAZ: Well, Bob, it's not likely that Turkey will be involved in any kind of combat against Iraqi soldiers, but there's no question that Turkish troops will certainly enter the border areas of northern Iraq to hold back any flow of refugees and, of course, to see to it that the Iraqi Kurds don't take any measures toward independence. This is probably the most sensitive issue for the Turks. And Turkey has made its position very clear on this issue. They do not want to see the breakup of Iraq. The worry here is that if the Iraqi Kurds manage to create some kind of state, it will create instability among Turkey's own Kurds. There are about 12 million Turkish Kurds who live mainly in the southeastern part of the country.

Now just yesterday one of Turkey's top generals called on the government to reimpose emergency rule in that part of the country, where the Turkish Kurds have in the past waged a separatist insurgency against the military. From the military's point of view, any war on Iraq is going to create the kind of instability that might allow the Kurds, both in northern Iraq and in Turkey, to resume that insurgency, so the military wants to be ready for it.

EDWARDS: Turkey's another country where public opinion strongly opposes a war in Iraq. So what's the likely political cost to the government in allowing the deployment of US troops on Turkish soil?

RAZ: It's hard to say what the ultimate political costs will be. If the war is short and if the United States holds up its part of the bargain--that is, you know, sending Turkey financial aid and then making sure that Iraq remains stable--then there might be a change of heart here in Turkey. But for now, there's no question that the overwhelming majority of the public doesn't want to see American troops deployed here, and practically all the polls show that as much as 95 percent of the public opposes a possible war.

EDWARDS: NPR's Guy Raz in Ankara, Turkey.

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