U.S. Plans to Upgrade Turkish Military Bases

ANKARA, Turkey -- U.S. officials are looking at investing hundreds of millions of dollars to upgrade Turkish military bases that could be used in a war with Iraq, a top U.S. defense department official said Wednesday.

U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said U.S. and Turkish officials were working out which bases could be used and which U.S. forces might be sent to Turkey if there were a conflict. Turkey borders Iraq and is already home to some 50 U.S. aircraft that patrol a no-fly zone over Iraq.

"We have an agreement to move forward with concrete measures of military planning and preparations," he said.

But Wolfowitz also cautioned that no formal agreement had been reached with Turkey.

"I am quite confident that we will in fact have a significant level of Turkish participation. ... Exactly how much is something that we are working on these days," Wolfowitz told reporters in Ankara a day after meeting with top Turkish officials.

"We are talking potentially about tens of millions, probably several hundred million dollars of investment in several facilities that we might use," he said.

Wolfowitz's statement comes a day after Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis said his country would allow the United States to use military bases. But a few hours after Yakis spoke, the Foreign Ministry clarified that he was speaking of "possibilities," not promises.

"There isn't a firm American request," Wolfowitz said when asked about the Turkish statements.

"It was said at all levels of the government that we spoke to that Turkey has been with us always in the past. They will be with us now," Wolfowitz said. "Turkish support is assured and I think that it is a very strong message to Saddam Hussein and the regime in Baghdad that Iraq is surrounded by the international community."

In addition to Incirlik air base, which U.S. aircraft now use to patrol a no-fly zone over Iraq, Turkey has helicopter bases near the Iraqi border and another main air force base in the center of the country, a little more than an hour's flying time from Iraq.

"We are close, but not yet exactly at the point of saying which bases we would use," Wolfowitz said.

Yakis said Turkey would have trouble supporting a large presence of U.S. ground troops in the country.

When asked about the use of ground troops based in Turkey, Wolfowitz said it would be in Turkey's interest if the United States had forces in northern Iraq during a conflict. Turkey fears that Kurds in northern Iraq could declare independence if the Iraqi government collapses, encouraging autonomy-seeking Kurds in Turkey's own southeast.

"It is strongly our position ... that Turkey will be better off if we are there to help manage what comes afterward," Wolfowitz said.

But he added that "I think we are quite comfortable with what we can do from the south." If there is a war in Iraq, any major U.S. thrust would be expected to come from the south.

Yakis also specified that Turkey would want UN approval of military action before granting the use of its bases.

When asked if the United States would have to seek a new UN resolution to use force against Iraq, Yakis said Tuesday: "Yes, yes, yes."

Wolfowitz said the issue of UN approval was one that was being discussed by the two governments.

"It is an important question and it is one that we need to clarify at the highest levels of both governments," Wolfowitz said.

He said U.S. President George W. Bush invited Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Washington and the two were expected to discuss U.S.-Turkish cooperation.