It’s About Time

U.S. Giving Up On Turks and Rerouting Ships (
I can’t believe we waited this long to accept the fact that Turkey wouldn’t allow us to base our troops there. Their parliament voted two weeks ago and the ships have been waiting there in the mean time. Hopefully the military planners have been spending this time working through alternatives.

After weeks of frustrating delays, the Bush administration has all but given up on persuading Turkey to let U.S. forces use its territory to invade Iraq. Instead, it is now focusing on “discouraging and deterring” the Turkish government from sending troops across the border, a senior U.S. official said today.

The United States is also seeking permission to use Turkish airspace, which Turkey granted during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. But the official said Turkey would not receive the $6 billion in economic aid that Washington had offered if it only granted overflight rights.

“The package is off the table,” the official said, noting that other U.S. allies that have offered their airspace will not be receiving special economic assistance either.

In response, the Pentagon began moving warships from the eastern Mediterranean, where they had been loitering pending the Turkish decision. Several U.S. ships capable of firing Tomahawk cruise missiles sailed toward the Suez Canal, apparently heading toward a zone where the missiles could be fired without passing through Turkish airspace.

Two dozen cargo ships — carrying the 4th Infantry Division’s tanks, trucks and supplies for what the U.S. hoped would become a northern front against Iraq — remained in the waters off Turkey, a Pentagon official said, but only because commanders had not decided where to send them. It is possible they could be ordered to Kuwait, where the equipment could be sent into Iraq if the 4th Infantry is chosen as a “follow-on force” to occupy Iraq or if the fighting there proves unexpectedly difficult.

The shift in the Bush administration’s position came after months of negotiations with the Turkish government aimed at a deal that would have let up to 62,000 U.S. troops enter the country to open the northern front. The Turkish parliament rejected the U.S. deployment by three votes on March 1; Turkey’s relatively new leaders have been unwilling to commit themselves to a second attempt.

The Turkish government could still change course and call a new vote, but with diplomacy at the United Nations in the final phase and U.S. military preparations accelerating, the Bush administration “is working under the assumption now that they’re not in,” the Pentagon official said.

As a result, the U.S. diplomatic effort in Ankara has shifted to ensuring that Turkey keeps its troops out of Iraq. A diplomatic team led by Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special envoy to northern Iraq, warned Turkey that any incursion would have a “very negative effect” on relations with the United States and pose dangers of fighting between Turkish troops and Kurdish and U.S. forces, the senior U.S. official said.

Over the vocal objections of Iraqi Kurds, the administration had agreed to let Turkish troops follow U.S. forces into northern Iraq and take up positions about 121/2 miles past the border to help prevent a flow of refugees and maintain security and stability. But Khalilzad told the Turkish government that the agreement was void because Turkey had not approved the U.S. deployment.

“The situation now is that it’s all off,” the official said. “We don’t have an agreement, and we don’t want them to go in unilaterally. The mission now is to discourage and deter them from going in, and to reach an understanding with them on legitimate issues of concern.”

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