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Powell: Turkey to Decide Soon on Role in Iraq Peacekeeping - 2003-07-24


Secretary of State Colin Powell met his Turkish counterpart, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, in Washington Thursday. Mr. Powell says he was promised an early decision from Ankara on a U.S. request that Turkey provide troops to help relieve the burden on U.S.-led forces in Iraq.

The bilateral relationship has been under stress since earlier this year when the Ankara government denied U.S. forces access to its territory for offensive operations in Iraq.

And it was further strained three weeks ago when U.S. troops detained 11 Turkish soldiers in northern Iraq for allegedly plotting against local Kurdish officials.

However, at a joint press appearance following a working lunch here, both the secretary of state and Mr. Gul said the U.S.-Turkish alliance is resilient enough to, as Mr. Powell put it, "work our way through these difficulties."

The session focussed on Iraq and a request delivered to Ankara last week by the U.S. military commander in the Iraqi theater, General John Abizaid, for the deployment of Turkish troops in Iraq to supplement the U.S.-led coalition.

The secretary told reporters the Turkish government had not fully analyzed the request, but that he was assured by Mr. Gul that it is under "the most active consideration."

"We would like a decision as soon as it is possible, but that is a judgment for the Turkish government to make," he said. "And I'm pleased that the minister indicated that they would be working on this in as fast a manner as possible, and I was pleased to receive that news."

Mr. Gul, for his part, said United Nations and NATO involvement in Iraq would "definitely make the job easier," a reflection of the expressed desire of Turkey and some other U.S. allies for a more specific endorsement of Iraq peacekeeping by the U.N. Security Council.

The Bush administration has maintained that Security Council resolution 1483, approved in May to lift sanctions on Iraq, provides sufficient authority for peacekeeping, but it has not ruled out seeking a further resolution.

U.S. officials have not provided details of the request to Turkey, but Turkish media reports have said it would involve several thousand troops to be stationed in central Iraq near Baghdad and Tikrit, the hometown of former ruler Saddam Hussein.

The talks here otherwise covered the Turkish economy and a pending multi-billion dollar U.S. loan package for Turkey, as well as Middle East peace efforts and Cyprus.

The secretary said he "encouraged" Mr. Gul to work with Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash to help salvage the Cyprus peace initiative by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, which has thus far been spurned by the Turkish-Cypriot leadership.

Mr. Powell took note of the recent easing of travel restrictions for Greek Cypriots in the Turkish north and said he hoped that can be converted into substantive movement toward a comprehensive Cyprus settlement.

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