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Turkey: Issues Still Block Takeover of Afghan Peacekeeping - 2002-03-25

Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit said Monday that all the conditions have not yet been met for Turkey to assume command of the international peacekeeping force in Afghanistan. For over a month, Turkish, British and American officials have been attempting to work out an agreement under which Turkey would take over leadership of the mission from Britain.

Prime Minister Ecevit told reporters that talks about the peacekeeping force were continuing, and that there had been no negative developments so far. But Mr. Ecevit also indicated that not all the conditions Turkey has laid down for undertaking a highly risky mission have been met.

Turkish officials are pressing for guarantees of sufficient manpower and equipment from other nations, particularly fellow NATO members, to ensure the success of the mission.

Britain, which currently leads the peace-keeping contingent known as the International Security Assistance Force, is eager to hand over command to Turkey when its term expires in April.

Turkey is also demanding that foreign governments help with the estimated $60 million it will cost to maintain its troops in Afghanistan for one year.

The Bush Administration has said it will seek Congressional approval for $28 million of financial assistance to help Turkey meet the cost of the mission.

Prime Minister Ecevit's remarks came ahead of a planned visit to Ankara by Afghanistan's interim leader, Hamid Karzai, on Wednesday. In his two days of talks, Mr. Karzai is expected to press Turkey to take command of the force.

In February, Turkey became the first Muslim majority country to join the 4,500-strong force, when it sent 267 troops for security patrols and humanitarian aid. The number of Turkish troops in Afghanistan will need to be expanded to 1,000 if Turkey agrees to lead the force.