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Turkey Delays Parliamentary Vote on US Troop Deployment - 2003-02-18

Turkey's government has delayed a parliamentary vote that would have permitted the deployment of thousands of U.S. troops in Turkey in preparation for an eventual war against Iraq.

Turkey's foreign minister, Yasar Yakis, confirmed that the vote has been postponed. Mr. Yakis said the delay stemmed from the failure by the United States to agree to Ankara's demands.

But Mr. Yakis insisted that progress is being made in negotiations with the United States on the deployment of U.S. troops in Turkey.

Lawmakers had been expected to vote on authorizing tens of thousands of U.S. troops to use Turkey to open a northern front in a war against Iraq.

According to Turkish media reports, talks between U.S. and Turkish officials were deadlocked over the amount of financial assistance Turkey is demanding to offset the possible effects of a war against Iraq on its troubled economy.

Another sticking point is said to be the role that Turkey's armed forces would play in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq and whose command they would fall under. Iraqi Kurdish leaders are demanding that Turkish troops be led by a U.S. commander.

Turkey has flatly rejected that demand. It says Turkish troops should be commanded by Turkish generals.

Turkey, the sole predominantly Muslim member of the NATO alliance, is set to play a key role in a possible U.S.-led war against Iraq, just as it did in the 1991 Persian Gulf conflict.

Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party has already taken some steps toward committing itself on the side of the United States. Last month the Turkish parliament voted to allow U.S. military engineers and technicians to upgrade Turkish bases and ports for possible use in a war.

But on Tuesday, Justice and Development Party chairman Tayyip Erdogan insisted that the vote did not constitute an irreversible step toward Turkey's commitment to a war on the side of Washington.