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US Congress Debates Aid Request for Turkey - 2003-04-03

U.S. lawmakers are questioning whether Turkey should receive a $1 billion U.S. aid package after that country refused to allow U.S. troops to deploy from its territory.

The $1 billion package for Turkey, a key NATO ally, is included in President Bush's $75 billion funding request to Congress to help pay the initial costs of the U.S.-led war to disarm Iraq.

But members of Congress are angered by Turkey's refusal to allow U.S. troops to use Turkish soil to invade Iraq an operation that some lawmakers argue could have shortened the war and reduced U.S. casualties.

At a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee hearing, Democratic Senator Bill Nelson of Florida, wondered whether the proposed aid to Turkey is warranted.

"There is going to be American blood spilled because we do not have a pincer movement coming from the north to the south on Baghdad, and that just sticks in my craw," he said. "So the question is, is it worth it for us to repair the relationship? It probably is, but is it worth a billion dollars?"

Subcommittee chairman, Republican Senator George Allen of Virginia, said he shares Senator Nelson's frustration over Turkey's decision. But he underscored that Turkey is a key ally, a Muslim democracy.

"As we decide how much money, whether it is this billion dollars or whether it is less, is something that as we make this decision, we need to take the long view, and what is in the best interest of the security of the United States; making sure that those who are not with us in this particular important venture for our security and for the liberation of the people of Iraq, in the long run we do not want to turn them into adversaries. It is a very, very difficult vote that we are all going to have to cast," he said.

The House and Senate are expected to vote on the budget supplemental, including the aid to Turkey, Thursday.

Assistant Secretary of State for European and Asian Affairs, Charles Ries, told the Senate panel that maintaining good bilateral ties with Turkey is in the United States' interest, as he defended the aid package.

"Our assistance will help them meet their very serious macroeconomic challenges, as well as help their military with its own re-equipping program, which is a contribution to NATO," he said.

Turkey initially had sought a $6 billion U.S. aid package to shore up its stumbling economy. The United States revoked that offer after the Turkish parliament refused on March first to open its bases to coalition forces for the war.

Since then, Turkey has allowed allied planes to overfly its territory into Iraq.

Earlier Wednesday during a visit by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, Turkey agreed to allow food, fuel and medicine through its territory to U.S. soldiers in Iraq.