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Bush, Ecevit Discuss Trade, Terrorism - 2002-01-16

President Bush met with the Turkish prime minister at the White House Wednesday. The leaders discussed increasing trade and fighting terrorism.

President Bush thanked Turkey's Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit for help in the war against terrorism. Turkey was the first largely-Muslim country to back the president's military involvement in Afghanistan and will contribute more than 260 troops to the peacekeeping force there.

Prime Minister Ecevit said Turkey's support is part of its responsibility to the world community.

Our cooperation with you against terrorism is a great service, not only for our own people but for the whole world," he said. "The American determination to get rid of terrorism in the world is of great importance, of historic importance."

Turkish officials have expressed concern over suggestions that the fight against terrorism may spread to Iraq. Since the 1991 Gulf war, U.S. jets have used Turkey as a base to patrol the northern no-fly zone. A renewed campaign against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein may encourage Iraqi Kurds to declare an independent state.

That could be trouble for Turkish security forces which fought a 15-year war against separatists in the majority Kurdish population of southeastern Turkey. Prime Minister Ecevit told reporters he will "never allow" an independent Kurdish state.

Despite U.S. objections, Turkey has been renewing diplomatic and commercial ties with Iraq. Prime Minister Ecevit sent an ambassador to the Iraqi capital last January for the first time since 1990. Turkey has signed a deal for new oil drilling in Iraq and has reopened rail lines as part of the U.N. oil-for-food program.

President Bush said he understands Turkey's concerns about Iraq and will continue to consult with the Prime Minister as the war against terrorism widens.

"My discussions with the prime minister are going to be not only regional in nature but global in nature, and I will assure him that we will consult closely with Turkey on any decisions that I make," he said. "Turkey is an ally and a friend. No decisions have been made beyond the first theater, and the first theater is in Afghanistan."

Trade was also on the agenda at the White House talks with Prime Minister Ecevit asking for lower tariffs and higher quotas for Turkish textile and steel imports. Turkey shipped nearly $3 billion worth of goods to the United States last year, making America the country's second largest trading partner behind Germany.

Turkey has already lowered tariffs on some American goods and clearly hopes to reach a new trade deal on this trip with a delegation including nearly 200 government ministers, businessmen, and trade officials. The Prime Minister also wants the Bush administration to forgive more than $5 billion worth of military debts.

Both leaders said they are encouraged by an agreement for talks between leaders of the rival Greek and Turkish communities on the divided island of Cyprus.