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US High-Level Delegation Heads for Turkey - 2002-12-27

Secretary of State Colin Powell spoke by telephone Thursday with Turkish Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis. The Bush administration is sending a senior-level delegation to Ankara for two days of talks starting Friday on Iraq and U.S. economic aid to Turkey.

The dispatch to Ankara of the State Department's third-ranking official, Undersecretary Marc Grossman, and Treasury Undersecretary John Taylor, comes as the Turkish government considers whether to support the United States in possible war with Iraq.

The Bush administration is proposing what is described as a "substantial" increase in U.S. aid to Turkey. But in comments to reporters here, State Department spokesman Philip Reeker drew no connection between the aid and Turkish support for U.S. military action, which, he said, President Bush still hopes to avoid.

"We've talked to many countries, including Turkey, about potential support should it be necessary to enforce U.N. Security Council resolutions to disarm Iraq, but reiterate that the president has made quite clear that our goal is to make military action a last resort," said Mr. Reeker.

Turkey's top decision-making body, the National Security Council, discusses Iraq Friday, though spokesman Reeker stressed that Mr. Grossman, a former U.S. ambassador to Ankara, and his team would have no part in those deliberations.

The only Islamic country in NATO, Turkey provided critical support for the U.S.-led coalition against Iraq in the 1991 Gulf War, and the United States is understood to be seeking the use of bases in Turkey as staging areas in the event of a new conflict.

Turkish newspapers say the Bush administration is offering Turkey at least $5 billion in immediate economic aid and long-term support.

In comments in Ankara, Turkish Foreign Minister Yakis said his government is not bargaining with Washington over the amount of new aid, which he said would help alleviate the economic damage Turkey might sustain from regional turmoil.

He also said his government's priority remained a peaceful solution to the Iraqi question, and that all efforts should be focussed in that direction.

Aides say Secretary of State Powell also discussed Iraq Thursday in a telephone conversation with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov.