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Turkish Parliament Delays Vote on US Deployment - 2003-02-20

Turkey's Parliament announced Thursday that it would not be voting this week on a motion that would enable deployment of thousands of U.S. troops in Turkey. The announcement comes amid mounting pressure from Washington for Turkey to commit itself to a possible U.S.-led war against Iraq.

Turkish Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis confirmed that a crucial parliamentary vote on allowing the deployment of U.S. ground troops in Turkey would not take place before Tuesday at the earliest.

He said the delay stemmed from outstanding differences between Turkey and the United States concerning Turkey's potential role in an eventual war.

Mr. Yakis acknowledged that another sticking point was the size of the economic aid package Turkey is demanding from Washington, to cushion the effects of a conflict with Iraq. But he insisted that the financial aspect was not the main issue as reported in the Turkish and international media. He also said negotiations with Washington were continuing.

In Washington, a senior U.S. official said that while the United States had not set a deadline, it did, "want an answer now."

Analysts say Thursday's announcement from Ankara appeared set to further strain relations between Turkey and the United States.

Secretary of State Colin Powell said Thursday that he expected a response from Turkey by the end of the day. Mr. Powell added that the United States remained firm in its position but expressed hopes that what he termed a "creative" solution could be found to overcome differences with Ankara.

The Bush Administration has been in talks with Turkey for 11 months now on its possible contribution to an eventual war against Iraq.

Washington wants Turkey to allow in tens of thousands of U.S. troops who could transit through its territory into Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq, where they could open a second front against Iraqi forces.

Turkish law requires parliamentary approval for deployment of foreign troops in the country. The ruling Justice and Development Party has a strong majority in the Parliament, but it has balked at U.S. demands, especially because of strong domestic opposition to a war against Turkey's fellow Muslim neighbor.

Another concern among Turkish politicians and military leaders is that Kurds in northern Iraq could benefit from the toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime to establish their own independent state.

Turkey, NATO's sole predominantly-Muslim member, could play a key role in any U.S.-led war against Iraq, just as it did in the 1991 Gulf conflict.