“On the economic assistance package, we’ve made some good progress. We’ve established an agreement on the overall structure of the assistance,” John Taylor, the Treasury Department’s undersecretary for international affairs, told reporters at the end of two days of talks in the Turkish capital.
Taylor did not elaborate on the scope of the aid, but characterized it as “flexible” and “adaptable.”
Turkish news reports have said Turkey is demanding up to $28 billion in support, but the report say the amount could vary according to what type of operation takes place.
“The overall magnitude is not the thing that we focused on. We focused on trying to make it as useful for Turkey in the event of a conflict,” Taylor said.
“Our assistance package is part of preparations. But the purpose is to avoid conflict.”
Turkey’s support is crucial to any U.S. military operation against Iraq, and Turkey was a staging point for air raids during the 1991 Gulf War. But Turkey prefers a peaceful solution to the situation, fearing a new war could devastate its economy or destabilize the region.
“Agreement was reached that this support must be … adaptive, quick, flexible, effective and changing,” Economy Minister Ali Babacan said in a written statement.
Turkish newspapers have reported that Washington is looking to use Turkish bases, ports and railroads and possibly deploy tens of thousands of troops to Turkey. The U.S. and Turkish governments have not commented.
Turkey says it has lost up to $40 billion in trade with Iraq over the past decade.
“There’s going to be an economic loss during this war,” Turkish Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis said Saturday, according to the semiofficial Anatolia news agency. “We’re telling the United States: You need to support us so we can get over these difficulties.”
Turkey’s military and political leaders met Friday to discuss Washington’s “expectations from Turkey” in a war, but did not say if they would extend help to Washington.
Taylor was accompanied by Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman.
The United States is Turkey’s most important ally. Although Turkey’s leaders have long expressed opposition to a war, Turkey is likely to have little choice but to extend support to the United States if Washington resorts to war.
Washington’s support was key to helping Ankara receive some $16 billion in loans, amid a recession that saw Turkey’s economy shrink 9.4 percent last year. Taylor said Turkey was making good progress in implementing belt-tightening measures and its economy was recovering from the crisis.
Turkey especially fears that a war to depose Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein could open the way to independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq. That, Turkish leaders fear, could encourage Kurdish rebels who waged a 15-year war in southeastern Turkey.
Turkey also wants to avoid a refugee crisis as in 1991, when some 500,000 Iraqi Kurds gathered at the Turkish-Iraqi border.