Military Sales, Kurds Likely Topics on US-Turkey Agenda
TURKEY'S president, Turgut Ozal, arrives in Washington today for a one-day meeting with President Bush. Mr. Ozal, who will fly to Camp David for an overnight stay, is one of many Gulf war coalition partners who remain closely tied to Washington. While at the crossroads of Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, Turkey's immediate participation in the US-led coalition and its heightened role in NATO firmly align it with the West.
Characteristic of US-Turkish relations, today's agenda is diversified, says Tacan Ildem, Turkey's political consul and Embassy spokesman here.
Increased military sales are among Ozal's top requests from Washington. Turkey spends 13 percent of its budget modernizing defense capabilities. ``Before the war, Turkey's value diminished in the context of East-West rapprochement. Now the West is reevaluating its security concerns,'' says Mr. Ildem. That will cost the Bush administration more than $700 million in Turkish military assistance originally proposed for 1992.
A sensitive issue Ozal will likely raise is Washington's alleged complicity in the Kurdish rebellion in northern Iraq.
Turkey is concerned that Iraq's internal strife will spill across their mutual border, heavily populated by Kurds who have been in rebellion for decades. Turkey is wary of its own Kurdish population, largely in refugee camps. The government's count is 40,000, including 4,500 Kurdish military and civilians who fled Iraq since Aug. 2.
Ozal's government recently met Iraqi Kurdish leaders, to dampen threats to Turkey. At the same time, Ozal publicly endorsed Iraq's territorial integrity, warning that disruption of any country's borders spells chaos for the region.
Turkey must reverse economic setbacks caused by its ready compliance with the embargo against Iraq; the cut in trade, closure of pipelines, and halted transit traffic set Ankara back some $7 billion.
The economy grew at double digit rates last year, much of the growth fueled by exports. ``Trade Not Aid'' is a constant Turkish refrain in dialogue with the US. Turkish farmers and manufacturers have made strides in quality control to meet international standards; they are now striving to overcome export barriers.
During Ozal's last visit to Washington in September 1990, he proposed a US-Turkey free trade agreement. Current two-way trade totals $3.2 billion annually, with a $700 million surplus for the US.