[A-List] Turkey: haggling with the US
michael.keaney at mbs.fi
Tue Feb 25 06:09:12 MST 2003
Turkey drives hard bargain over access for US forces
Troops deal: Concessions on trade are key to change of heart
Helena Smith in Ankara
Tuesday February 25, 2003
Few would have guessed that the price of war against Iraq would boil down to
a bizarre Ottoman-style carpet shop haggle.
But ahead of a crucial vote by the Turkish parliament today on whether to
allow thousands of US combat troops to be based here, negotiators
representing George Bush have been engaged in just that.
Yesterday, as Washington desperately tried to secure Turkey's support in
launching a northern front that would make any conflict both swifter and
less bloody, it continued to come up against the Turks' formidable
While Ankara's MPs met in special session, negotiators were still bartering
over a "maze of agreements" in exchange for Turkey's help in a possible war.
To sweeten the deal, the US has even thrown shoes and leather goods into the
mix, offering Turkey preferential trading status as part of a complex
multibillion dollar compensation package.
"We're down to discussing pennies and dollars," admitted one western
diplomat. "There is a lot of back and forth. Amongst the maze of agreements
being discussed are a possible reduction on quotas such as Turkish shoes and
leather goods as part of an expansion of qualifying industrial [free] zones
Washington has offered up to $15bn (£9.4bn) in grants and loans to cushion
its Nato ally's fragile economy in the event of war.
But, aware of their strategic importance to a successful campaign, the Turks
have driven the hardest of bargains. The package, say members of the ruling
Islamic-tinged Justice and Development party, must be sweet enough to
placate Turkey's overwhelmingly anti-war population.
After several weeks of intensive negotiations, Turkey's foreign minister,
Yasar Yakis, said on Sunday that Ankara would only be satisfied if it also
received a "bridge credit" at the start of any military action since US
congressional approval for the aid package could take weeks.
"Every Turk feels he or she was robbed because of broken promises after the
first Gulf war," said another western diplomat. "But this time round they're
proving to be the toughest of negotiators."
At home the shameless bartering has gone down a treat. Turkey has barely
recovered from its worst economic depression since 1945, a crisis blamed on
the last Gulf war.
But as the high-wire bargaining has mounted, so have official efforts to
play down the financial aspects of the deal. "This is not a carpet shop
haggle," Mr Yakis said.
Tayyip Erdogan, who is expected to become Turkish prime minister next month,
stressed that "the discussions also have political, military and social
dimensions. America is our friend".
Turkey wants US guarantees that, post-war, it will not allow arms to fall
into the hands of Kurdish rebels bent on declaring independence in northern
Iraq - a prospect Ankara fears may provoke unrest among its own Kurdish
Mr Erdogan said the US should provide Turkey with legal assurances of any
"That way," said Saban Disli, one of his chief aides, "there will be no
surprises either during or after the war."
The government says it has to get the best possible deal so that it can sell
it to sceptical MPs. Secretly, Turkey's leaders are praying MPs stick by
Uncle Sam. "If we're going to be damaged by a war against our neighbour,"
said one, "it's better to be on the right side."
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