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U.S. has no deadline for Turkey to respond

State Dept.: U.S. not trying to buy Turkey's cooperation

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Turkish Prime Minister Abdullah Gul argues that no parliamentary vote on U.S. troops is possible under the constitution without a second U.N. vote authorizing use of force against Iraq.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Despite the sense of urgency, senior Bush administration officials said Thursday there is no deadline for Turkey to respond to the last U.S. aid offer in exchange for clearance to base U.S. troops there for a possible war on Iraq.

The United States has offered a $26 billion aid package to encourage the majority-Muslim nation to accept some 40,000 U.S. troops.

Earlier in the day, Secretary of State Colin Powell said he expected to hear back from Turkish officials by the end of the day.

But after Turkish Prime Minister Abdullah Gul announced the decision would not be coming Thursday, a senior White House official said, "Powell was simply expressing hope. There is no deadline for Turkey to respond."

The White House is treating the political standoff with Turkey very gingerly. One adviser explained, "Turkey is a longtime valued friend. Diplomacy is never pretty."

Another official added, "This is a tough issue for the Turks. It's time for patience."

The Bush administration offer -- made Wednesday and termed the final proposal -- is for $6 billion in grants and up to $20 billion in loans. With ships carrying equipment for a U.S. infantry division already off the Turkish coast, the administration said it wanted a response from Turkey within 48 hours.

Any longer, officials said, and it would have to start working on alternatives on where to put the troops.

"This is not a bluff," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, traveling with Bush aboard Air Force One. "The U.S. is preparing for war in case a decision is made to go to war. We have to deal with realities, and we will. And if basing is not allowed in Turkey, we have no choice, we will pursue other options."

Other options for getting U.S. troops and equipment into Iraq include bringing them overland from southern Iraq or flying them into a Kurd-controlled air base in northern Iraq.

Turkish Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis had already said Turkey's parliament was not likely to vote on the issue until next week. And top Turkish political leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan told a newspaper his country would not open its bases to U.S. troops unless Washington guarantees economic aid in writing.

"This will not happen without a signature," Erdogan said to Yeni Safak, an Islamic-leaning publication. "We don't have a date in mind. Only when we reach agreement will we send the request to parliament."

Ankara wants a formal assurance the U.S. Congress will act quickly to release financial aid, Erdogan said

"They talk about two months when asked how long such a decision could take in Congress," he said. "It's not clear what will happen in two months, Congress could make a negative or positive decision."

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State Department spokesman Richard Boucher denied the United States was trying to buy Turkey's cooperation. He said seeing Iraq disarmed would be in Turkey's interest, and "in doing that, there may be economic costs, there may be economic consequences. And we are prepared to help Turkey, as [a] friend and an ally, with those economic costs and consequences."

Most U.S. forces in the region are based in Kuwait and in the Persian Gulf emirates. U.S. planners want to put up to 40,000 U.S. troops on Turkish soil to launch a second front against Iraq, which they say would shorten a possible war.

Turkey argues it suffered heavy financial losses after the 1991 Gulf War and had insufficient say in its resolution -- especially regarding the situation in northern Iraq. It also fears Kurds in the region could use the turmoil of war to try to set up an independent state.

In Turkey's impoverished mainly Kurdish southeast, separatist conflict has killed 30,000 people since 1984. The region borders semi-autonomous northern Iraq, administered by Iraqi Kurds since the end of the Gulf War.

The Turkish military wants to send thousands of troops into the enclave to stem a potential refugee flow and to block any attempts by Iraqi Kurds to establish an independent state.

The situation presents a difficult problem for Turkey's new government because refusing to allow U.S. troops to use its bases would anger an ally which provides strong economic and political support. But at the same time, accepting U.S. forces could anger a population that is overwhelmingly opposed to war.

Ali Babacan, the economy minister, said Turkey and the United States would resolve the deadlock "within the coming days."

Political and military dimensions

Erdogan said fears of social upheaval and instability in the region outweighed Turkey's concerns over whether its crisis-hit economy could withstand the shock of an Iraq war.

"It's ridiculous to call this bargaining for dollars. The political and military dimensions are far more important, the economic dimension comes after these," Erdogan said.

Prime Minister Abdullah Gul was due to meet Chief of General Staff Gen. Hilmi Ozkok and President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, who argued this week that no parliamentary vote on U.S. troops was possible under the constitution without a second vote in the United Nations authorizing use of force against Iraq.

Erdogan led the Justice and Development Party, which traces its roots to two banned Islamic parties, to an overwhelming victory in a November parliamentary election. However, he was barred from becoming the prime minister because of a previous conviction for sedition.

Erdogan's deputy, Gul, serves as prime minister, but a March by-election in which Erdogan plans to run could pave the way for him to take over the top job.

On Wednesday NATO finally approved the deployment of radar planes, Patriot missile systems, and biochemical units to defend Turkey in the event of a war against Iraq, overcoming opposition from France, Germany and Belgium.

CNN White House Correspondent Suzanne Malveaux, Istanbul Bureau Chief Jane Arraf and Senior White House Correspondent John King contributed to this report.


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