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Powell says U.S. expects Turkey to back war by keeping troops out of Iraq, helping with logistics

ANKARA, Turkey—Secretary of State Colin Powell said Tuesday the United States expects Turkey to back the U.S. war effort in neighboring Iraq by keeping its troops out of the conflict and replying swiftly to requests for logistical support to U.S. forces.

Powell, carrying a $1 billion White House proposal for aid to Turkey, meets with leaders here Wednesday in hopes of reviving cooperation following the Turkish parliament's vote last month against hosting U.S. ground troops.

The vote led to mutual recriminations and dashed Washington's hopes of opening a second major military front, from the north, against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Powell, speaking to reporters aboard his plane, said the Bush administration is "looking for a spirit of accommodation" from Turkey. He said he will request—on the Pentagon's behalf—new assistance to U.S. forces in the region as well as help in eliminating delays in delivering humanitarian aid across Turkey's border into northern Iraq.

He did not detail the military assistance to be sought, but said Washington would not renew its request for Turkey to host large numbers of U.S. troops. The unit that was to have deployed to Turkey, the 4th Infantry Division, is now assembling in Kuwait.

The secretary of state pointedly noted that members of Congress, angered over the March 1 vote, are threatening to trim or attach conditions to President Bush's request for $1 billion to shore up Turkey's economy.

"I will point out ... there is still a level of disappointment in the United States, within the administration and within the Congress, over actions of the past month or so," Powell said.

"If we see full cooperation in the days ahead ... and full support for humanitarian efforts as well as to support our troops that are now in northern Iraq, then I think this would help," he said.

"The overall direction of our relations is positive, there should be no doubt," a Turkish foreign ministry official said.

Turkish officials say the White House badly miscalculated opposition to the Iraq war, which is nearly universal here, and assumed, wrongly, that the government could override it.

Turkey also has a major stake in northern Iraq, where it fears ethnic Kurds could attempt to break away and form their own state, prompting a similar uprising among Turkey's large Kurdish minority.

Powell expressed confidence that Turkey will not follow through on threats to send troops into northern Iraq now that the United States' 173rd Airborne Brigade has deployed to stabilize the region.

Bush's special envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, has been hopping between northern Iraq and Ankara to allay Turkish concerns.

"We are increasingly in control" of Iraq, Powell said. Any Turkish moves "would have to be in coordination with our commander."

Hasan Unal, an international relations specialist at Ankara's Bilkent University, said, "The next few days will be critical in Turk-American relations."

He pointed to the expected attack on the Iraqi cities of Kirkuk and Mosul, which both Turks and Kurds claim as ancestral homelands.

The United States has promised Turkey that Kurdish fighters will not take the towns. But it has only about 1,000 paratroopers of the 173rd Brigade and some special operations units in northern Iraq, and could easily be overrun by the tens of thousands of Kurdish fighters if Turkish troops moved into Iraq.

The United States has reason to make good with Turkey. It is a large and secular Muslim democracy that borders not only Iraq but also Iran and Syria, two nations Powell criticized Sunday for allegedly hampering the war effort by smuggling weapons and military equipment into Iraq.

Turkey is a longtime U.S. ally, and Washington has backed its efforts to join the European Union and provided economic and military aid.

But the tension with Washington and the brutal images of the U.S. war on Iraq are turning many Turks against the United States.

Murat, a man who sells apricots and spices below Ankara's ancient citadel, said his uncle fought alongside U.S. troops during the Korean War, and that he himself felt gratitude when the United States defended Turkey against the Soviet Union's meddling in the region.

But now, he said, the United States can no longer be seen the same way.

"Before the war, I had good feelings about the United States. I don't believe that the U.S. will now just abolish the regime and go away. I think they will stay 30 or 40 years," Murat said.

Powell announced that before going to Brussels on Wednesday night for talks with European counterparts, he will make a brief stop in Belgrade, Serbia-Montenegro. There, he will meet with Serbia's new leaders in the aftermath of last month's assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic. Djindjic was killed by figures linked to organized crime.

Powell said he will encourage Serbian President Svetozar Marovic and new Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic to "keep going after this criminal behavior in their society" and continue to cooperate with war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.


(Strobel is traveling with Powell. Hall reported from Ankara.)


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

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