Turkey weighs new vote on accepting U.S. troops

Stock market tumbles as nation faces effects of war without financial aid

March 04, 2003|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

ANKARA, Turkey - Pressure grew on the Turkish government yesterday to try again to seek permission for thousands of U.S. troops to enter Turkey on their way to invading Iraq.

The politically weakened ruling Justice and Development Party remained split on whether to ask parliament to vote a second time to allow U.S. troops in. Legislators rejected such a plan by three votes Saturday.

The first signs that Turkey could pay a heavy price for defying the United States came yesterday, as its stock market plunged more than 10 percent despite assurances from senior government officials that the country was on track with reforms required by the International Monetary Fund. The national currency, the lira, tumbled 5 percent, and the threat of higher interest rates loomed.

Turkey is emerging from its worst recession since World War II. The parliamentary rejection put at risk a potential $30 billion U.S. aid package designed to cushion any financial shock from a war in neighboring Iraq and lessen Turkey's debt.

Cabinet ministers worked late into last night to try to assess why parliament didn't approve the measure to allow American soldiers to use Turkish bases to invade Iraq.

"A decision will be made after the evaluations end. And I don't know when the evaluation will end," Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis said yesterday.

Kuwait said it would accept some of the 62,000 American troops lined up to go to Turkey if Turkey would not.

"Turkey is reviewing its options for what they will or will not be able to do, and we are evaluating our options and our alternatives," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.

Pentagon officials said yesterday that the Turkish parliament's rejection was "a concern" but that other options were being considered.

Among the options is sending elements of the 101st Airborne Division, which is now deploying to Kuwait, into northern Iraq. The division has about 250 attack and transport helicopters.

Another possibility is flying U.S. tanks and other armored vehicles into the Kurdish area of northern Iraq, officials said.

"My guess: In the end, we will have U.S. forces in northern Iraq one way or the other," Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said last week.

One official said this "northern option" was not part of the original war plan created by Army Gen. Tommy Franks, who would command the U.S.-led coalition, and was added later primarily as a stabilizing tool. The U.S. forces could be in the area to quell any disputes between Kurdish forces and neighboring Turkish troops, particularly over the area's oil assets.

Also yesterday, Pentagon officials said that an additional 60,000 U.S. Army troops would be deployed to the Persian Gulf region: The 1st Cavalry Division from Fort Hood, Texas, which has both tanks and helicopters; the tank-heavy 1st Armored Division, with elements at Fort Riley, Kan., and Germany; and the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment, a helicopter reconnaissance unit from Fort Polk, La. That would raise the number of U.S. forces in the region to more than 250,000.

It is uncertain precisely when the soldiers in the latest deployment orders would depart, although officials said they most likely would be used as occupation forces in Iraq. One officer with the 1st Cavalry Division estimated it would take the division up to six weeks to get to the region.

Turkey has a lot to lose by not allowing U.S. troops to be based there. It stands to be sidelined in any plans for a postwar Iraq. It could have less clout in preventing the rise of an independent Kurdish nation that could a spark a quest for self-determination among Turkey's own restive Kurdish minority.

But perhaps the biggest issue at stake is that Ankara could be deprived of U.S. financial aid and support for Turkey's application to join the European Union.

Investors are concerned that an approaching war in Iraq and souring Turkish-American relations would shatter Turkey's frail economy, and they are counting on the financial package tied to a U.S. deployment.

"The markets are sending a signal of living with the worst-case scenario, where we have to deal with the consequences of war, but we'll not get the extra financial aid," said Ali Carkoglu, the research director of the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation.

Sun staff writer Tom Bowman contributed to this article.

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