CONFLICT WITH IRAQ Powell shows optimism on answer from Turkey
U.S. ships filled with tanks and other armor wait for word off the Turkish coast.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Secretary of State Colin Powell said today, "There may be some creative things we can do" to gain acceptance of a proposed U.S. aid package meant to pave the way for Turkey to help in a war against Iraq.
During a State Department news conference with NATO Secretary Lord Robertson, Powell did not elaborate on those refinements but said he expected to hear from Turkey by day's end. As for the United States, "Our position is firm," Powell said.
A big setback
Meanwhile, failing to win Turkey's approval to base American ground forces there for a possible invasion of Iraq would be a big setback for U.S. war planners, but Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld says it could be overcome.
"It's doable," Rumsfeld told a Pentagon news conference Wednesday. "There are work-arounds." He declined to discuss any specifics.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said, meanwhile, that the deadlock continued.
Implying the United States might deploy troops elsewhere instead, Fleischer said, "We have to deal with realities, and we will."
Flying to Atlanta with President Bush, the spokesman said the United States had no final offer to make to Turkey. "This is not a bluff," he said.
A senior U.S. official said late Wednesday the United States had not set a deadline. But the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said, "We want an answer now."
Vote in Turkey
In Ankara, foreign minister Yasar Yakis said a parliamentary vote on basing U.S. troops in Turkey is not likely before next week, but the government could decide in principle earlier than that and save final authorization for later.
Earlier Wednesday, Powell interceded with Turkish Prime Minister Abdullah Gul in an apparently unsuccessful effort to break a deadlock over U.S. economic assistance. Powell and State Department spokesman Richard Boucher gave no indication the telephone diplomacy produced a breakthrough.
In Ankara, Turkey's economy minister said the dispute should be resolved "within the coming days."
The remark by Ali Babacan was initially reported by CNN-Turk television and confirmed early today by a spokesman at his office, Halit Ertugrul.
At issue is the size of an economic aid package that would allow Turkey's parliament to approve the deployment of U.S. soldiers there. Turkey has delayed a vote on the troops, waiting for approval of a multibillion-dollar aid package that would compensate Ankara for any losses during a war with Iraq.
A Turkish official in Washington said the country wanted more than the United States had offered but the American side was holding firm. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said his government would make up its mind quickly.
The standoff comes as U.S. ships loaded with tanks and other armor awaited orders off the Turkish coast.
Nicholas Burns, the U.S. ambassador to NATO, said today on ABC's "Good Morning America" that the United States and Turkey will remain allies no matter what happens in the current dispute.
"Turkey is a very important ally," he said. "We have had good relations, and they will continue to be allies. We have had an excellent relationship over many, many decades, and that's not going to change."
Using U.S. armored forces in Turkey to open a northern front is a major feature of the U.S. war plan. It would force Iraq's army to defend from several directions. Around 100,000 U.S. and British ground troops would lead a charge into southern Iraq from bases in Kuwait, but there is no other country in the region bordering Iraq that will host large U.S. ground forces.
The war plan, as drawn up by Gen. Tommy Franks, the commander who would run a war against Iraq, calls for positioning the Army's 4th Infantry Division, supported by parts of the 1st Infantry Division, in southern Turkey.
As a mechanized infantry division, the 4th would use tanks and other armor, coupled with artillery, Apache attack helicopters and highly mobile infantry, to spearhead a quick drive into northern Iraq, large parts of which are not controlled by the Iraqi government.
Turkey is a longtime American ally, but its public opinion is strongly against a U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Five U.S. cargo ships are waiting off the Turkish coast with weaponry and equipment of the 4th Infantry Division, and dozens more ships are scheduled to follow with supplies to sustain the division in combat. If no deal is struck with Turkey, the ships presumably would be ordered to head for the Persian Gulf, via the Suez Canal and Red Sea, to unload at a Kuwaiti port.