U.S. and Turkish diplomats held intensive and inconclusive negotiations yesterday over the terms of a multibillion-dollar economic aid package designed to secure Turkish support for a potential U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and insulate Turkey from war costs.
After a day of discussions in Washington that included Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Treasury Undersecretary John Taylor, the two sides remained billions of dollars apart, said a senior Turkish official who described "slight movement, but not enough to satisfy the Turks."
Turkey, which shares a 218-mile border with Iraq, has not agreed to allow U.S. troops to use its facilities in the event of war, and Prime Minister Abdullah Gul told reporters in Ankara, the capital, yesterday that the decision would depend on the outcome of the aid talks.
Turkey received a commitment of military help yesterday from Germany and the Netherlands, which prepared to ship Patriot missiles there despite the NATO alliance's inability to agree to a Turkish request for protection against a potential Iraqi threat. Turkey continues to seek reconnaissance planes and units able to respond to germ and biological warfare.
U.S. officials say Turkey will certainly receive financial help from the United States. The principal questions are how much and in what form, said a State Department official who reported that Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis and his team are "looking for a budget sweetener. They want money, as much as they can get."
While neither side would specify numbers, sources reported that they are far apart. Turkish officials and media have cited figures ranging from $14 billion to $25 billion -- amounts the Americans consider outlandish. A senior U.S. official said negotiators may yet reach an agreement before Yakis departs Saturday.
"There is a gap, but we think we've made a fair offer," the official said. "One of the arguments we're making is that an Iraq that is normal and democratic and economically viable is a huge benefit to them. Yes, there may be some short-term challenge to the Turkish economy, but over the long term, the great benefit is to Turkey."
The Bush administration is growing impatient with the Turks at a time when senior policymakers have said a war to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein may be just weeks away. Turkey's parliament is set to vote Tuesday on the U.S. request to station an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 troops in the country, but Gul said he could not promise that it would take place on time.
A State Department official said: "The United States is coming to the end of its line and is expecting some kind of action."
The Ankara government has taken steps to help the Americans by allowing wider use of military sites and seaports, signing an agreement last Saturday to permit about 3,500 U.S. troops and civilian workers to modernize such facilities there. But it has protested that a war with Iraq would be deeply unpopular. Economic contributions are needed to ease the sting, the Turks have told the Americans.
The Washington talks are designed to resolve three sets of issues, the Turks reported. The first issue is the rules that would govern U.S. troops stationed in Turkey. The second is the economic package. The third is a set of principles to define post-conflict Iraq, a particularly sensitive subject because of the enmity between the Turkish government and the Kurds who control much of northern Iraq.
Turkey is not alone in seeking money. Egypt has asked the United States for more aid to defray war effort contributions and such costs as lost tourism revenue. Israel has appealed for $2 billion in new military assistance and $10 billion in loan guarantees. No money for war-related economic aid, or for the war itself, is included in President Bush's 2004 budget.