TURKEY is reportedly closer to an agreement with the United States and the UN to allow it to flush the oil pipeline from the Iraqi oil fields in Kirkuk to Turkey's Mediterranean port of Iskenderun.
The 550-mile pipeline has held 12 million barrels of crude since August 1990, when the United Nations imposed sanctions on Iraq for invading Kuwait. Turkey used the pipeline to transport oil from Iraq for both domestic consumption and export. Of the 12 million barrels contained in the pipeline, 3.8 million barrels were already paid for by the Turkish Petroleum Company.
The Turkish government recently launched a diplomatic drive to persuade its Gulf war allies and the UN to allow flushing of the pipeline. Turkish officials say this is necessary to prevent corrosion.
But the Turks' desire to ``rescue the pipeline'' is not deprived of political considerations. Prime Minister Tansu Ciller and other top officials have repeatedly complained about the losses suffered by Turkey because of the sanctions against Iraq; they estimate Turkey has lost $20 billion since 1990. Although Western observers find the figure exaggerated, they admit Turkey's losses are considerable.
Following strong insistence from Mrs. Ciller, who faces growing domestic pressures for a normalization of economic links with neighboring Iraq, the Clinton administration has agreed ``in principle'' to allow the flushing of the pipeline once - or perhaps twice - strictly for technical reasons.
Undersecretary of the Foreign Ministry Ozdem Sanberk completed talks with Washington and the UN in New York Tuesday. He told reporters at the end of his trip that adoption of a resolution would not be long delayed, adding: ``We hope that it will be within a couple of weeks.''
Turkey has agreed to use domestically the 3.8 million barrels it has paid for and to pay the UN Compensation Fund 30 percent of the value of the remaining 8.2 million barrels. The rest of the money would be used to supply Iraq with humanitarian aid permitted under the UN embargo and repay Turkish debts.
But Turkey needs Iraq's consent to put the revenues into a UN escrow fund. And in previous talks with Mr. Sanberk, the Iraqis hinted that they would oppose any arrangement that does not respect Baghdad's right of sovereignty.
Russia has opposed any deal, saying that it would open the door for special requests.
The dilemma for the Turks is how to reconcile the desire to normalize relations with neighboring Iraq while cooperating with the West and complying with international rules.