ANKARA, Turkey (AP) – Turkey agreed yesterday to let the United States send food, fuel and medicine – but not weapons – through its territory to U.S. soldiers fighting in Iraq, another sign of limited cooperation from NATO’s only Muslim member.
Secretary of State Colin Powell and Turkish leaders also agreed on an “early warning” system to avert friction between Turkey and Iraqi Kurds – an accord designed to block Turkey from sending its forces into northern Iraq. Washington fears that could lead to Turkish clashes with Iraqi Kurds and undermine the U.S.-led war effort in Iraq.
Powell’s visit came amid tensions between Washington and Turkey, where polls show more than 90 percent of the people are against the Iraq war.
Some 500 protesters gathered outside Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s office while Powell was inside, chanting “Yankee, go home.”
Turkey’s parliament last month rejected a motion that would have allowed in 62,000 U.S. ground troops to open a northern front against Iraq, a move that analysts said likely would have led to a shorter, quicker war.
The rebuff helped strain Turkish-U.S. ties. U.S. officials were angry the northern front was lost, and Turkish officials said Washington wanted democracy in Iraq but could not accept a “no” vote from one of the only democratic parliaments in the region.
However, Powell and his Turkish counterpart, Abdullah Gul, emphasized U.S.-Turkish cooperation, and both sides seemed keen to avoid deepening the rift. Washington cannot afford to alienate Turkey, and Turkey is slowly emerging from a financial crisis and needs U.S. support. President Bush has asked Congress for $1 billion in aid for Turkey.
“The visit of Secretary Powell has strengthened our relations and helped to dispel all issues with regard to relations between the two countries,” Gul said.
Powell said the two sides discussed the U.S. need to supply troops fighting in northern Iraq, and Turkish officials said Turkey will allow food, fuel, medicine and “other humanitarian assistance” into Iraq for U.S. forces.
“We have solved all of the outstanding issues with respect to providing supplies through Turkey to those units that are doing such a wonderful job in northern Iraq,” Powell said.
Gul said Turkey has been letting planes carrying wounded troops land in Turkey, and would continue to do so. Recent reports also have said U.S. aircraft that are low on fuel have been allowed to land at Incirlik air base in southern Turkey.
However, when asked if the Turkish support would include the transit of guns and ammunition, Erdogan said: “No. No,” the Anatolia news agency reported.
Yesterday, 27 trucks carrying 20 U.S. jeeps and food passed through Turkey and arrived in Irbil, in northern Iraq, according to sources there. The jeeps had mounts in the back for machine guns, but did not have the weapons.