Turkey Bargaining Power
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MARGARET WARNER: U.S. ships loaded with tanks and other military equipment have been stalled for days off the Turkish coast. They’re awaiting Turkey’s okay to base U.S. troops there, in preparation for a possible war with Iraq.
Turkey, a NATO ally, shares a common 218-mile border with northern Iraq. The U.S. used military bases in Turkey to launch air strikes during the 1991 Gulf War. And Turkey still hosts U.S. warplanes enforcing the no-fly zone over the Kurdish region of northern Iraq.
But now, the U.S. wants to put 40,000 to 80,000 U.S. ground troops on Turkish soil. For months, Turkey’s new Islamic-based government and the Turkish public have balked. Polls show a majority of Turks oppose giving any help to U.S. military intervention in Iraq.
MARGARET WARNER: Turkey’s U.N. ambassador said Tuesday his country is still suffering the effects of the ’91 Gulf War.
UMIT PAMIR, U.N. Ambassador, Turkey: It is Turkey who has received, and has been receiving, the raw impact of instability in its South. When in 1991, for instance, nearly 500,000 refugees entered Turkey in distress, many old countries of Europe were loath to accept more than a mere twenty to ninety refugees — men, women, and children. Today talk of war, as such causes debilitating effect on our already fragile economy.
MARGARET WARNER: As incentive, U.S. officials say they’ve offered Turkey economic aid totaling $6 billion in grants, and up to $20 billion in loan guarantees. The Bush administration has pressed hard over the past three months. In December, Deputy Defense Sec. Paul Wolfowitz met with government officials in Ankara. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Richard Myers took the case to Turkish military officials in January.
GEN. RICHARD MYERS: I would not agree that the U.S. government has conveyed to the Turkish government impatience. These are strategic partners that we are going to work through the many issues that we have.
MARGARET WARNER: And last week, the administration hosted Turkey’s foreign minister in Washington. But on Monday, Turkish Prime Minister Abdullah Gul said he would not take the matter to parliament on Tuesday as Washington had expected.
PRIME MINISTER ADULLAH GUL (Translated): There are some issues that Turkey grants importance to. These could be summarized as political, military, and economic issues. We believe that it would be difficult to convince the parliament before there is any agreement on these issues.
MARGARET WARNER: U.S. officials said Turkey was holding out for more money — up to $30 billion in aid — written confirmation that Congress would appropriate the funds, and a role for Turkey’s military in northern Iraq.
But Sec. of State Colin Powell said yesterday the U.S. financial offer was final.
SEC. OF STATE COLIN POWELL: I reaffirmed to them yesterday morning in a phone call to the prime minister that our position was firm with respect to the kind of assistance we could provide, with respect to the level. There may be some other creative things we can do, but the level was our ceiling.
MARGARET WARNER: On Turkish television yesterday governing party chief Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the future of Iraq’s Kurdish area was complicating the negotiations. “The case here is not as simple as bargaining over dollars,” he said; “we’re talking about the restructuring of the region, how the situation bears going to play out, we have to assess all of this.”
Meanwhile, NATO began this week deploying AWAC’s radar planes and other systems to protect Turkey from possible Iraqi attack.
Late today, Sec. Powell did report some progress in the negotiations but said it was not yet a done deal. He called the problems difficult but resolvable and said if they’re resolved, the agreement could go to the Turkish parliament for a vote early next week.
MARGARET WARNER: For more on the negotiations, and the importance of Turkey for U.S. war plans, we turn to Zeyno Baran, director of international security and energy programs at the Nixon Center, a Washington think tank, she was born in Turkey and educated, in part, in the United States; Henri Barkey, a former member of the State Department policy planning staff focusing on this region, now a professor at Lehigh University, he’s written extensively about Iraq and the Kurds. And retired Marine Lt. Gen. Bernard Trainor, now a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, he’s co-author of The Generals’ War: The Inside Story of the Conflict in the Gulf. Welcome to you all.
General Trainor, before we get into whether there’s a deal and what might be in the deal, explain to us why it’s so important for the U.S. to be able to use Turkish bases and Turkish territory to base ground troops.
LT. GEN. BERNARD TRAINOR: Margaret, the American military forces would be able to conduct a campaign against Iraq without Turkey, but it’s very, very important if we have the option to operate out of Turkey because that would allow us to move not only from the South up towards Baghdad – but also just attacking from the North. And it divides the Iraqis and it would speed up the operation immeasurably.
Amongst other things, it would also secure the oilfields that are up in Mosul and Kirkuk in that area, where there are about a thousand oil heads. So it’s very important that we get the Turks to go along with us so we can launch an operation out of that area.
MARGARET WARNER: If U.S. forces need to be able to come from the North as well as the South, why not just fly U.S. troops in, maybe seize air fields in the North, establish a base that way?
LT. GEN. BERNARD TRAINOR: Well, that’s theoretically possible. But I would say it’s a very high risk sort of operation. For one thing, to get them up there to land paratroopers… there would be limited numbers to do that… or to go by air land, capturing an airfield and then bringing the forces in, or flying up helicopters from the South, they would be going over Iraqi territory and they would be vulnerable.
But most of all, and while you could do that, but once you get up there, it takes a long time to build up your combat power and forces that are air landed or para-dropped in there have no mobility and they don’t have very much firepower.
So if there was considerable resistance on the part of the Iraqis, they could be very vulnerable, cut off and destroyed, because the Iraqis have a fair number of forces up there. They have about six divisions, two of which are Republican Guard divisions.
MARGARET WARNER: Translate that for us.
LT. GEN. BERNARD TRAINOR: There would be danger even with air support of being overwhelmed.
MARGARET WARNER: So six divisions is how many troops?
LT. GEN. BERNARD TRAINOR: Well, you’re talking probably, depending on the size of the Iraqi units and we are not quite sure of their order of battle at this time, but we’re talking anywhere between ninety and one hundred thousand troops.
MARGARET WARNER: Ms. Baran, how do you read the statements that have come out from the prime minister and the foreign minister of Turkey and also from Sec. Powell? I know you have been talking to people in Turkey. Do you think a deal is close?
ZEYNO BARAN: I do believe that a deal is close. There has been a lot of reporting that a deal could be as close as Tuesday. I wouldn’t necessarily put a deadline on it anymore because there have been a number of these deadlines.
And I think what happened was Turkey has felt that it has received sort of an ultimatum, and that really led to enormous reaction because it is a democracy, and they are trying to finish the negotiations. And today it seemed like the sides were coming much closer to an agreement on the economic package. And once the economic package is agreed on, it is going to be easier to sort out the political and the military aspect as well.
MARGARET WARNER: What would you add to that, Prof. Barkey, in terms of the Turkish government’s position in this?
HENRI BARKEY: Well, the Turkish government also is in a difficult position because there is a great deal of opposition and they did not do a good job of explaining to the public why it is that a possible war with Iraq may actually even benefit them in the long run; the status quo doesn’t work for them.
But I think the Turks wanted to bargain as hard as they could and go to the 11th hour before saying yes. And this way they could show their own public that they did their best, they organized a summit of Arab leaders and Turkey in Istanbul. They went for the peace option. All these things did not work. They can now turn to the public and say look, we did our best, and we have no choice but to accept the American offer.
MARGARET WARNER: Ms. Baran, before the ’91 Gulf War, Turkey didn’t extract concessions, financial help like this from the U.S. government. Why this time?
ZEYNO BARAN: Well, because Turkish economy has suffered tremendously. In ’91 and since then, in fact Turkish economy has been in bad recession since 1999. And there has been $31 billion IMF package but economy could still go in a very bad direction, so they want to make sure that at least their initial costs are going to be covered. And what they’ve estimated that to be is going to be about $10 billion.
Now the $6 billion grant could be turned to, with loans, over $20 billion. But one of the concerns that Turkey has is that they’re not going to get that money immediately as cash. It’s going to take a while to get congressional approval. Turkey also hasn’t had a good history dealing with Congress.
Previously on a number of political issues when the U.S. administration has promised Turkey assistance, Congress has provided a blocking. And so this is one of the areas where Turks would like to get a written or a fairly solid understanding that they will get the economic assistance in a timely manner.
MARGARET WARNER: And as much as possible in the outright grants rather than in loans, is that right?
ZEYNO BARAN: Correct.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, Prof. Barkey, let’s turn – is there something you want to add to that?
HENRI BARKEY: Well, there is an irony in this, is if the Turks were not to agree and let our troops go through, the war will still take place and they will suffer the economic consequences as well but then the administration will not be as generous, obviously towards the Turks. So there is also an incentive now for the Turks to make a deal because if they think the war is inevitable, they might as well get the best out of it.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Prof. Barkey, now give us your interpretation that the head of the governing party, Erdogan said, when he said the case is not as simple as bargaining over dollars. We are talking about the restructuring of the region.
HENRI BARKEY: What they’re really worried about is what happens to the Kurds in northern Iraq. Turkey suffered through a Kurdish insurgency in the 1980s and 1990s, which ended in 1999 with the capture of the leader of the insurgency and with the help of the United States.
Now what they’re worried about is that if the Kurds in northern Iraq assume some autonomy, legal autonomy, either through a federal state or maybe even go for independence, that that Kurdish autonomy will eventually affect or influence Turkish Kurds. I don’t think that’s the case. But they are desperate to stop any attempt by the Kurds to either become independent or achieve a federal state, and take two cities that are critical in northern Iraq — Mosul and Kirkuk — which has large oil deposits.
MARGARET WARNER: They don’t want the Kurds to take the cities.
HENRI BARKEY: They don’t want the Kurds to take them because that would make that state much more viable in the future.
MARGARET WARNER: Zeyno Baran, do the Turks want to take those cities? There are reports that the Turks want to move large number of troops in behind the American troops.
ZEYNO BARAN: What the Turks would like the do is to make sure there is not going to be enormous amounts of refugees coming into Turkey. And they would like to make sure that they can protect in case of an uprising. But they have said repeatedly –
MARGARET WARNER: Protect who in case of an uprising? Please explain.
ZEYNO BARAN: They’re concerned that after the initial attacks, maybe some of the Kurds would use the arms that they have been receiving against Turks and the Turkmen who live near Mosul and Kirkuk. And one of the concerns that Turkey has is — and this is something they’re trying to get a written agreement on — is the future of Iraq. That’s what Turks mean when they talk about the political agreement.
They want to make sure that that the Kurds, the Arabs as well as the Turkmen, will have a say in the future of Iraq. And this is something that Turks are very, very concerned about.
MARGARET WARNER: Gen. Trainor, back to you. Could U.S. forces, let’s say a deal is reached and they’re up there in the north fighting the Iraqi forces, could they get caught in a conflict between Turks and Kurds?
LT. GEN. BERNARD TRAINOR: There is no question of it. Something like that could happen but I think the presence of the American forces there will be designed not only to go after the Iraqis, but also to secure the oilfields so that the Iraqis if they have that in mind, can’t torch them as they did in Kuwait in 1991.
But they also would be a presence in there to keep the Kurds from declaring their independence in taking up arms and causing problems. Now is that an assured thing that we would be able to prevent that from happening? No. But I think the likelihood with the American presence there reduces the possibility, indeed the probability of that happening.
MARGARET WARNER: There were reports, General, late today that in fact part of the deal could be that both sides agree that the U.S. will take Kirkuk and Mosul, and that way the Kurds don’t have to worry about the Turks and vice versa. Does that sound like a good idea to you?
LT. GEN. BERNARD TRAINOR: Oh, I don’t think there’s any question about that. We would launch the attack from Turkey, going down the Tigress River corridor and taking Mosul and off to the west Kirkuk and continue straight one down to Tikrit, the hometown of Saddam Hussein and on to Baghdad. It is a natural avenue of approach.
But on the way, we would be taking these two major towns and protecting the oilfields and the population.
MARGARET WARNER: How does that sound to you?
HENRI BARKEY: The nightmare scenario for the administration is that if there is no American troops in Turkey going, spearheading an attack from the North, that you will see a rush by Kurds and Turks for those two cities, and inevitably, those two forces will clash. And that’s a nightmare scenario because the Turks would be bogged down in a terrible guerrilla war in northern Iraq which they may win initially but lose in the long run and undermine the whole American plan for Iraq, which is to a unified democratic Iraq.
MARGARET WARNER: And briefly, Ms. Baran, do you think the Turks would be satisfied with that, if the U.S. really played that stabilizing role up there?
ZEYNO BARAN: Yes, absolutely. They have actually made statements saying that that would be the most stable outcome. And based on what we have been discussing, I think this is clear hopefully why Turks believe they’re so essential.
And they believe in fact the U.S. might have been bluffing saying that we have other options. They believe that they are essential for a successful short attack. And therefore, I think they’ve been holding tight. We’ll probably see an agreement on Tuesday provided both sides reach an agreement on the key issues.
MARGARET WARNER: And Gen. Trainor, once there is an agreement, how long will it take to get U.S. forces — 30,000, 40,000 troops — in position and ready to go?
LT. GEN. BERNARD TRAINOR: Well, that’s a problem, Margaret. It’s about 400 to 500 road miles on Highway E-90 from the Mediterranean ports over to the Tigress assembly area. It’s a time-space factor. They’ve got to start getting in there and start moving and ready to go.
Otherwise they’re going to have to sail around and go through the Suez Canal and land at the overloaded ports in Kuwait for an attack from just on a single axis. That’s undesirable. So we are talking about an early decision, if the president is thinking of going perhaps sometime in the middle of March, if the U.N. resolutions don’t satisfy him, or if the U.N. resolutions give them the support for an attack. But time is of the essence and not a moment to lose.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. And we don’t have another moment left. Thank you all three very much.