- WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The
United States signaled a willingness on Thursday to make last-minute revisions
to an economic aid package for Turkey, hoping to end an impasse with its
NATO ally over the use of Turkish bases by American forces for a possible
war with Iraq.
- The overture, which may involve restructuring portions
of the $26 billion package to provide more assistance to Turkey at the
same cost to the United States, could help salvage U.S. plans to send up
to 40,000 troops to Turkey for use in a possible invasion of Iraq from
the north. An announcement could come as soon as Friday.
- Secretary of State Colin Powell told reporters the U.S.
aid offer -- which amounts to $6 billion in grants and up to $20 billion
in loan guarantees -- was as high as the United States could go.
- "Our position was firm with respect to the kind
of assistance we could provide with respect to the level," Powell
said. But he added: "There may be some other creative things we can
- So far Turkey has balked at the offer, demanding up to
$32 billion in aid, including up to $10 billion in grants and more leeway
to decide how the money is spent.
- It is unclear whether tinkering with the structure of
the package will win Ankara over.
- Turkish Prime Minister Abdullah Gul said he would make
a statement on the issue on Friday. The local CNN Turk news channel reported
U.S. Ambassador to Ankara Robert Pearson may be called to the Foreign Ministry
ahead of the statement.
- Powell said he expected to hear from Ankara before the
end of the day. But a U.S. official said that didn't mean Washington expected
a final response on Thursday. "We didn't set a deadline," the
- Senior U.S. defense officials said Washington had told
Ankara it needed to know by the end of this week whether Turkey accepted
the U.S. aid package in exchange for allowing up to 40,000 U.S. troops
into the country.
- Beyond the military advantages of mounting an attack
on neighboring Iraq from Turkish soil, Ankara's active support in the campaign
against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein would give Washington the comfort
of a Muslim ally in a war many in the region deride as an anti-Islam crusade.
- The bulk of U.S. forces being sent to the region are
being gathered in the Gulf, signaling the main brunt of an attack would
come from the south but opening a second northern front could shorten the
war, U.S. planners believe.
- POSSIBLE CHANGES
- Hoping to break the deadlock, sources said the United
States may alter the structure of grants and loans to give Ankara more
flexibility in how it uses the money and how much it can raise through
private banks with U.S. backing.
- "When you come to any particular amount of assistance,
there are always various ways of providing it," State Department spokesman
Richard Boucher said. "So a given amount of money could either provide
a certain level of grants or a higher level of loans if it were used as
a guarantee or subsidy for a loan."
- "What we've tried to do is to work with the Turkish
government to show that we can help them in a variety of ways that are
not solely limited by the specific amounts," Boucher added.
- Sources said one option would be to reduce the amount
set aside to support the loan guarantees, thereby increasing how much Turkey
can borrow without increasing the cost to U.S. taxpayers.
- In addition, U.S. sources said the administration was
discussing the possibility of providing oil to Turkey at a subsidized rate.
The oil could come from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait or other regional allies.
- Raising the stakes in negotiations with Washington, Turkey
wants written guarantees of aid and Turkish military access to northern
- Since any deal would have to be approved by the U.S.
Congress, Turkey will have to settle for less than a concrete guarantee
from the Bush administration, officials said.
- "We've been talking about how to make clear to our
publics and their parliament what we might agree upon. But we're not there
yet," Boucher said.
- Congressional sources said the strategic importance of
Turkish bases would make it difficult for lawmakers to vote against the
aid package whether they like it or not.
- House of Representatives Speaker Dennis Hastert, an Illinois
Republican, offered verbal assurances of support during a recent visit
- In what some in Washington took as a hopeful sign, the
Turkish foreign minister signaled an agreement could still be reached in
the diplomatic standoff. "I do not see a deadlock," Foreign Minister
Yasar Yakis was quoted as saying by the state-run Anatolian news agency.
- Turkey worries that its economy will suffer from a war
in neighboring Iraq. The military wants to send troops into the Kurdish
enclave in Iraq to stem a refugee flow and block any Kurdish drive for
independence that could inspire Turkey's own Kurdish minority to revive
demands for autonomy.
- Washington, growing frustrated as the clock ticks toward
possible military action, has pushed for a rapid Turkish decision and said
it would deploy its troops elsewhere in the region if there was no deal
by the end of the week.
- "This is not a bluff. ... The United States is preparing
for war in case a decision is made to go to war," White House spokesman
Ari Fleischer told reporters traveling with President Bush.