The United States is said to be considering scaling back a request to Turkey to base as many as 80,000 additional troops in the country, in preparation for a possible war with Iraq. A team of U.S. military experts is in the country inspecting ports and bases as part of an effort to reach an agreement.
A Western diplomat reports progress but, after several days of talks, still no agreement between Washington and its NATO ally on the U.S. request for tens of thousands of troops to be able to use Turkey as a base for opening a northern front in a war against Iraq.
Sources say what had been a request to put as many as 80,000 troops in the country could be scaled back to about 15,000. In return, Washington is offering Turkey a range of incentives including an infusion of economic aid and loan guarantees that could run into the billions of dollars.
That offer could be hard for a country still suffering from lost trade and revenue from the first gulf war 12 years ago to resist. But public opinion in the overwhelmingly Muslim country is running heavily against another war.
At the same time, Turkey is offering to host a meeting of Arab envoys as early as next week, a meeting which Turkey's ambassador to Washington Faruk Logoglu expects may be a last chance to avoid war.
"To see if there is something still more to be done, that can be done, to give a powerful message to Iraq and the leaders of Iraq that this is a time to really deliver satisfaction to the international community," he said.
One Western diplomat in Ankara suggests it would not make sense for Turkey to announce a decision on the U.S. military request before seeing whether this meeting makes any headway.
Turkey has already given the United States permission to use its airbases, provided the U.N. Security Council first approves military action against Iraq. The chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers is arriving in Turkey this weekend, underscoring the importance the United States attaches to reaching an agreement for having ground troops in the country as well.