ANKARA, Turkey—Turkey agreed Wednesday to provide critical support to U.S. troops in northern Iraq, promising to let fuel and other supplies pass through its territory en route to forces in the war zone.
In another development that could simplify the war effort and its aftermath, Turkey and the United States sealed a deal to coordinate their actions in northern Iraq. That could deflect a threatened incursion of Turkish troops into Iraq, something Washington strongly opposes.
An upbeat Secretary of State Colin Powell, after meeting with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other top Turkish officials, pronounced the talks "very fruitful."
The outcome appeared to ease tensions in U.S.-Turkish relations, wounded by Turkey's refusal last month of a U.S. request to host 60,000 troops to invade Iraq from the north.
But the cooperation announced Wednesday could prove controversial for Erdogan. The war in Iraq is deeply unpopular in Turkey and has prompted a rise in anti-Americanism.
Powell was dogged by protests and accusatory questions from Turkish media about Iraqi civilian casualties.
"We hope that this war in Iraq does not last long and it ends ... with minimum civilian casualties," Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said at a joint appearance with Powell.
Gul emphasized the humanitarian aid that will flow faster to Iraq across Turkey's southern border as a result of the agreements.
But Powell and his delegation were focused on the logistical support to U.S. units in northern Iraq, particularly the 173rd Airborne Brigade, which has 2,000 paratroopers on the ground.
Supplies that can be delivered via Turkey, all non-lethal, will include water, fuel, food and construction equipment, said a senior State Department official. This will allow the United States to expand its military presence in northern Iraq if it chooses, the official added.
Deliveries could begin "very quickly" and will give a boost to Turkey's tepid economy, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
As if on cue, 40 nearly combat-ready vehicles reached Irbil, Iraq, late Wednesday in a shipment via Turkey. The convoy carried food, fuel and medicine for U.S. troops—in Defender 110 Land Rovers on which machine guns can be mounted.
Gul said Turkey also will allow U.S. combat aircraft in distress to land in Turkey and permit the evacuation of wounded soldiers. Several other agreed-upon combat support activities already are under way, but Turkey has not publicly acknowledged them.
They require no new action by Turkey's parliament, Gul said. In a shock to Washington and its war plans, the parliament on March 1 defeated by three votes the proposal for U.S. ground troops to stage in Turkey.
Powell also announced that Washington and Ankara have agreed to establish a committee to coordinate their actions in northern Iraq.
"Frankly, tensions have been lessened" on that score, he said.
Turkey has frequently threatened to send troops into northern Iraq to guard against a surge of refugees to its border; a move by ethnic Iraqi Kurds to declare an independent state; or attacks on Iraq's Turkomen minority.
The Turks did not promise Powell there will be no incursion, but said they would not move without coordinating with the United States, the senior State Department official said.
As Powell arrived at the prime minister's office Wednesday, a heavy police presence kept protesters at bay. Nonetheless, four members of the leftist Freedom and Solidarity Party dashed past police just before Powell arrived, tried to throw red paint on the guards, and shouted, "Get out, U.S. This country belongs to us."
Police subdued them quickly and hauled them away.
In addition, several Turkish journalists turned their backs to Powell in what they said was a protest of slanted Western media coverage of the war.
"American journalists have been very biased in their stories," said Ozlem Akarsu, a television reporter for Sky Turk Television who participated in the action.
While Powell met with Erdogan, more than 300 protesters outside shouted "Yankee Go Home" and "Go Home Powell."
Powell, known for rarely losing his cool, walked out of an interview with Turkish ATV after the questions became increasingly antagonistic and the interviewer had gone well over the allotted time.
Despite the protests, Powell's visit was beneficial to both countries, said retired Lt. Gen. Hasan Kundakci, a popular military affairs commentator on Turkish television.
"Saddam's forces have been surrounded, the end of the war can be seen and the U.S. will be neighboring Turkey for a period," Kundakci said in an interview. "The U.S. needs Turkey as a democratic secular state in the region, and Turkey needs the U.S. as a strategic ally. The needs of the two countries are mutual."
Before jetting to Brussels for talks with European counterparts on reconstructing post-Saddam Iraq, Powell made a three-hour stop in Belgrade, Serbia. The stop was a gesture of support for a nation shaken by the March 12 assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic by figures linked to organized crime.
Powell met with Djindjic's replacement, Zoran Zivkovic, and effusively praised the government's commitment to continuing economic reform, rooting out corruption and extraditing accused war criminals to a tribunal in the Hague.
"I am absolutely delighted by what I have heard," Powell said, promising, "We look forward to helping in every way we can."
Powell drove into downtown Belgrade past the federal police headquarters, Defense Ministry and other buildings still gutted from the U.S. bombing during the 1999 Kosovo crisis. Before leaving, he met with Djindjic's widow and presented her two children with State Department baseball caps.
(Strobel traveled with Powell; Hall reported from Ankara.)
(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
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