by Matthew Lee
WASHINGTON — US officials appeared stunned by the Turkish parliament’s refusal Saturday to allow the deployment of 62 000 US troops for a possible war with Iraq.
The officials, who had been prepared to hail the parliament’s approval of the deployment based on initial reports that the vote had succeeded, expressed consternation when told that it had in fact been defeated.
“They did what?” blurted one State Department official.
That official and others declined to comment on the nullification of the close vote and were seeking clarification from the US embassy in Ankara as well as Turkish authorities.
“We are seeking clarification and waiting to see what the Turkish parliament’s decision is,” said Tara Rigler, a department spokesperson.
In Ankara, the embassy said US ties with Turkey would not be threatened by the vote, calling it democratic and one that would be respected by Washington.
“We respect this as a democratic result,” embassy spokesperson Joseph Pennington said. “We will live with that. US ties with Turkey are not threatened in any way.”
Washington had placed great importance on the vote and had lobbied the Turks relentlessly to approve the deployment, sweetening the pot by offering some $6bn in aid to the Muslim nation, where public opposition to a possible war with Iraq is overwhelming.
On Friday, the State Department said negotiations over the aid package were “substantially completed” and could not be revised much further, making clear Washington was losing patience with repeated delays in the vote.
“It’s now up to Prime Minister (Abdullah) Gul and his cabinet to complete the Turkish political process,” spokesperson Richard Boucher said.
He would not say whether Washington had set down a deadline for the vote, but a senior department official said if it was postponed any longer it would be in effect “too late” and would force troops now massing in the region to consider alternatives.
“If they wait longer than Saturday, we’re going to have to look elsewhere,” the official said.
After hearing the first incorrect reports on Saturday that the parliament had approved access for US troops, Washington was set to laud the move and praise the Turkish government for its courage, according to a reaction prepared by the State Department.
‘No longer operative’
“We warmly welcome the decision of the Turkish parliament to permit US forces to enter Turkey for possible military operations towards Iraq,” it said. “We applaud the courageous leadership of the Turkish government.”
“This vote is a further sign of the strong strategic partnership between our countries and our joint commitment to ensure that the Iraqi regime complies with UN Security Council Resolution 1441 and eliminates its weapons of mass destruction.
“The United States and Turkey share a common vision of an Iraq free of all forms of oppression on the way to a free, peaceful and prosperous future in accordance with the principles of the UN charter,” it said.
After it became clear the vote had failed, one US official said the earlier State Department language was “no longer operative”.
The speaker of the Turkish parliament, Bulent Arinc, said the motion to allow the deployment had failed because it had not received the necessary majority of MPs present in the chamber.
Of the 533 MPs present for the vote, 264 supported the motion, 250 voted against it and 19 abstained, Arinc announced.
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