Stalemate arises over U.S. access to Turkish bases

Pentagon may be forced to alter 2-front strategy for invasion of Iraq

February 20, 2003|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

WASHINGTON - The United States issued a take-it-or-leave-it ultimatum to Turkey yesterday as a stalemate developed over access to Turkish bases, even as ships carrying U.S. troops drew close to the conflicted ally's shores.

A key component of the Pentagon's Iraqi battle plan envisions a two-front attack, one from Turkey on the north, the other from Kuwait on the south. U.S. officials said that if Turkey refuses to cooperate, they will have to substantially alter their war strategy.

An armor task force that had been assigned to attack northern Iraq from Turkey would have to be reassigned to Kuwait, already crowded with armor, military sources said. That could add days or weeks to the original timeline of war beginning early next month and could add greater risk to troops.

They would have to travel hundreds of miles to reach their objectives in northern Iraq, leaving the initial occupation of northern Iraq and protection of the oilfields there to much lighter allied forces.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said he believed that Turkey would cooperate "one way or another." Regardless of the outcome of negotiations, he said, an invasion of Iraq can be launched without using Turkey as a staging area.

"Obviously, the more assistance one gets, the easier it is," Rumsfeld said. "The less assistance one gives, the more difficult it is. But nonetheless, it's doable, and there are work-arounds."

Meanwhile, a U.S. official said Secretary of State Colin L. Powell bluntly told Turkish Prime Minister Abdullah Gul yesterday that negotiations over U.S. economic aid were over, and that the administration's last offer was on the table.

Powell "stressed the importance of reaching a decision very soon," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.

This latest obstacle along the path to war emerged as U.S. and British diplomats continued working for a new United Nations resolution strong enough to give them authority to attack Iraq but ambiguous enough to ensure passage.

"We're basically there," said one U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity. "We're at the point of dotting the i's and crossing the t's."

The official said the new resolution "does not break new ground. It summarizes all of the last opportunities that the Security Council has given the Iraqis." It would "implicitly" contain a deadline, the official added.

The resolution, which the U.S. and British delegations would present together, is likely to be offered by early next week, perhaps as soon as today. Its fate remained unclear. France, Russia and China - all with veto power on the Security Council - favor more U.N. weapons inspections rather than immediate military action.

The disagreement between the United States and Turkey is based, at least publicly, on financial considerations. Turkish officials said they want $10 billion in U.S. grants and $20 billion in loans. The Turkish television network NTV said the United States has offered $7 billion in grants and an undisclosed amount of debt forgiveness.

At the White House, spokesman Ari Fleischer said the bargaining had come to an end.

"Turkey has heard authoritatively what the position of the United States government is, and now Turkey has a decision to make," Fleischer said. "But the military of the United States is sufficiently flexible that whatever decision is made, the United States will still be successful in carrying out any military operations."

Administration officials said the urgent need to come to agreement on the aid deal reflects the Pentagon's desire to position troops.

Also yesterday, NATO formally approved the deployment of defensive military equipment to Turkey, which fears a retaliatory Iraqi strike if war erupts. AWACS radar aircraft, Patriot missile systems and chemical-biological response units will be shipped to Turkey within the next three weeks, NATO officials said.

President Bush declined to take questions during an Oval Office meeting with NATO Secretary-General George Robertson.

But the president praised the NATO deployment, saying that it would "help protect our Turkish ally from a potential attack from Iraq."

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