US steps up pressure on Turkey
By Amberin Zaman
ANKARA: America urged Turkey yesterday not to pour troops into northern Iraq during the US-led military campaign, as Ankara pressed ahead with a military build-up along its southern border.
As American, Turkish and Kurdish officials gathered in Turkey’s capital to discuss northern Iraq, Colin Powell, the US secretary of state, said the movement of Turkish troops across the border could “precipitate a crisis” between Turks and Kurds. “We have made it clear that the situation there is volatile,” he told an American television network.
US-Turkish relations are strained after Ankara refused earlier this month to allow America to deploy 60,000 troops on Turkish soil so that it could open a second front against Saddam Hussein from the north.
Turkey’s willingness to allow American troops into its territory is in further doubt after news that its government, led by the chairman of the ruling Justice and Development party, Tayyip Erdogan, would not seek a vote of confidence before Sunday. The government is unlikely to re-submit a bill seeking authorisation for deployment before then.
America is concentrating its efforts on preventing Turkish forces from moving into northern Iraq. Ankara is still wavering in the face of American demands to bring in the troops after the Turkish parliament’s rejection on March 1 of a motion authorising their deployment. Turkey seems set on moving its forces into Iraq’s Kurdish enclave to prevent Iraqi Kurds from setting up an independent state. The Turks fear that this would re-ignite separatist passions among its own Kurds. Iraqi Kurds, however, say they will fight any occupying Turkish forces.
Zalmay Khalilzad, the US envoy to the Iraqi opposition, and Turkish diplomats are due to hold talks in Ankara today with Iraqi Kurdish leaders and other prominent opposition figures in an attempt to ease tensions.
Gen Powell said there was still a slim chance of the troops deal being agreed. “They are positioning themselves to take the package back to their parliament. Whether it will be in a timely manner or not remains to be seen,” he said. —LDT