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Turkish officials say $26 billion deal near on hosting U.S. troops

WASHINGTON—Turkey on Friday softened its resistance to helping to host American troops for a possible U.S.-led invasion of Iraq as President Bush sought to rally support for a critical vote at the United Nations next week.

Top Turkish officials said they expect a deal within days that would clear the way for U.S. military operations in Turkey in return for at least $26 billion in U.S. aid. The Pentagon needs Turkey's cooperation to open a northern front in any invasion of Iraq.

The outlook at the United Nations was far less certain. U.S. and British officials plan to present a war resolution to the 15-member U.N. Security Council as soon as Monday, but winning the nine votes necessary for passage seemed unlikely.

"I don't think there is a majority in the council for such a resolution," said Jean-Marc de la Sabliere, France's U.N. ambassador, a leader of the opposition to the U.S. push for military action.

Negotiations over Turkey's role as a staging ground snagged earlier this week after Turkey rejected the $26 billion aid package as insufficient. On Friday, both sides indicated that an agreement was near, without releasing the financial terms.

The last known U.S. offer called for $20 billion in loans and $6 billion in grants that would not have to be repaid.

"They understand our worries, we understand theirs," Turkish Prime Minister Abdullah Gul said in Ankara. He predicted that a deal "will be reached in the coming days."

As for skeptics at the United Nations, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Bush planned an all-out effort to win them over. Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice will join Bush in making a series of phone calls to top leaders from all 15 Security Council members.

"Every vote is important," Fleischer told reporters. "There will be a lot of diplomacy going on."

Only two other Security Council members, Bulgaria and Spain, have endorsed the U.S.-British resolution opening the door to military action.

France and Germany have been the most vocal war opponents, but Russia, China and Syria have also questioned the need for war. France, Russia and China all have veto power on the council.

Six countries—Mexico, Chile, Angola, Cameroon, Guinea and Pakistan—are considered possible swing votes, although many of them have raised objections to Bush's hard-line approach.

One European diplomat, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the outcome could depend on the precise wording of the resolution.

"Right now, I wouldn't see a chance for nine votes," the diplomat said. Inocencio F. Arias, Spain's U.N. ambassador, called the prospects for passage "difficult, but not impossible."

The looming U.N. vote has already produced some intense behind-the-scenes diplomatic activity. Ismael Gaspar Martins, Angola's ambassador to the U.N., acknowledged the difficulty of defying the world's sole superpower.

"With Iraq or without Iraq, we need the help of the United States and the international community," Gaspar Martins said. He demurred when asked if Angola faced the equivalent of diplomatic arm-twisting:

"I don't call it pressure. I call it the process of consultations," he said.

Bush worked the phones from his Texas ranch Friday, placing calls for U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and the Emir of Kuwait before welcoming Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar for an overnight visit.

Aznar arrived in Texas from Mexico, where he failed to win Mexican President Vicente Fox's support for a war resolution. One Mexican newspaper summed up the visit with a headline declaring, "Aznar Fails, Mexico for Peace."

In Rome, British Prime Minister Tony Blair plotted strategy with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, another hard-liner on Iraq.

Although both leaders are under intense domestic pressure to distance themselves from Bush, Blair said Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein should not take much comfort from the recent anti-war demonstrations in Europe.

"If he believes that the will of the international community has weakened in any way, I think he is mistaken," Blair said. Blair was likely to hear another anti-war message Saturday during a private meeting with Pope John Paul II.

"I obviously know the views of the Pope well, and they're very clear," Blair told reporters. "We do not want war, no one wants war. ... But in the end, I can't avoid it unless Saddam chooses the route of peaceful disarmament. "

The case for war might gain momentum if Iraq fails to follow through on recent promises to cooperate with U.N. weapons inspectors. On Friday, the inspectors demanded that Iraq destroy hundreds of rocket engines and missiles that violate U.N.-imposed limits on Iraqi weaponry.

Iraq is not supposed to have missiles with a range of more than 150 kilometers, or about 93 miles, but inspectors said they recently found more than 300 engines designed for use in missiles that would violate the limit. Iraq has denied any wrongdoing.

In another development, Powell warned that a war with Iraq would be more difficult than the 1991 Persian Gulf war, which ended without a full-scale invasion of Iraq.

"It was not our mission then to go Baghdad, it was to kick the (Iraqi) army out of Kuwait. We did that," Powell said during a question-and-answer session with high school students hosted by Black Entertainment Television. "This is a different war. It is a much deeper war. It goes much further, a longer distance through more populated areas, so it is a more complex operation."

Powell, who served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Persian Gulf war, faced a series of hostile questions about the administration's war plans. One student bluntly asked if the war was really just an attempt to take control of Iraq's oil fields.

"No, not at all," Powell replied. "The issue simply is getting Iraq to disarm, to get rid of its weapons of mass destruction."


(Hutcheson reported from Washington, Johnson from New York. Knight Ridder Newspapers correspondent Susana Hayward in Mexico City contributed to this report.)


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.