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Powell's Trip Aims to Underscore Importance of US-Turkish Ties - 2003-04-01

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell is due to arrive in Turkey late Tuesday in a visit meant to reaffirm the importance the United States attaches to relations with its NATO ally.

Mr. Powell is scheduled to hold talks with Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, as well as with his counterpart, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul.

Ties between Turkey and the United States have come under unprecedented strain in recent months. Both countries have conflicting agendas with regard to Iraq. The United States has long been pressing Turkey to take an active part in the military campaign in Iraq, but the overwhelming majority of Turks are opposed to the war, and Turkey's parliament voted on March 1 not to allow U.S. combat troops to be based in Turkey.

That rejection came after months of bargaining between the United States and Turkey. In the end, the Bush administration agreed to extend some $6 billion in loans and grants to Turkey in exchange for its help. That package has now been withdrawn and Secretary Powell made clear ahead of his visit that he would not be offering Turkey more money.

Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul has brushed aside speculation that Mr. Powell would seek use of Turkish bases for the U.S.-led war effort. Turkey has, however, opened its airspace to coalition aircraft.

Turkish officials have said one of the most urgent issues that will be discussed between the two sides is the situation in northern Iraq. Turkey is seeking written guarantees from Washington that the Iraqi Kurds will not be permitted to take control of the oil-rich provinces of Kirkuk and Mosul.

Turkey fears that if the Kurds are able to occupy these provinces, the money they get from the oil would enable them to fulfill their long-held dreams of independence and re-ignite separatist sentiment among Turkey's own Kurdish population.

To prevent such a development, Turkish leaders say they reserve the right, if the need arises, to intervene militarily in the Kurdish-held enclave. That is a development the United States wants to prevent.