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Former Envoy Abramowitz Says Turkey Will Receive $6 Billion in Aid and Billions in Loans

Interviewee: The Honorable Morton I. Abramowitz, Senior Fellow, The Century Foundation
Interviewer: Bernard Gwertzman, Consulting Editor
February 23, 2003

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Morton I. Abramowitz, U.S. Ambassador to Turkey during the 1990-91 Gulf War, says that the Bush administration has worked out a deal with Turkey that will allow some 60,000 U.S. troops to invade Iraq from Turkey. In return, Turkey will get $6 billion in economic aid and unspecified additional billions in loans. The Turks will also get a fresh U.S. promise to preserve the integrity of Iraq and not permit a separate Kurdish state to develop.

Abramowitz, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation and a former president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says 96 percent of the Turkish population opposes war with Iraq. Still, Ankara felt obliged to make the deal to salvage Turkey’s economy, which has still not recovered from a severe recession.

He made the comments in an interview with Bernard Gwertzman, consulting editor for cfr.org, on February 24, 2003.

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Q. What are the agreements that have apparently been reached between Turkey and the United States?

They apparently comprise three elements: economic, political, and military.

Let’s go through them, one by one. What is the economic agreement?

The economic one, which has gotten the most public attention, has been over how much the United States will provide Turkey in order to defray the potential shocks on Turkey’s very parlous economy. That discussion has gone on for quite a while, although the United States knew from the beginning of Turkey’s concerns and said it would help defray any blows to its economy from the war.

Obviously, the negotiations took longer than expected. The two sides seem to have worked out an agreement which provides $6 billion in grants to Turkey and an unspecified but considerable amount, if the Turks want it, in loans.

The loans could be important because, at the beginning of a war, Turkey will want a significant infusion of money to defend the currency.

So that’s one aspect of it, and I think after much discussion, it has been worked out. Let me digress for a moment to say that in part, this all is a matter of history. The Turks have always felt that [the United States] short-changed them in the first Gulf War, and the economy badly suffered. They were determined not to have that happen again and to work out a deal, particularly since their economy is just recovering from a huge recession. The economy is still very parlous and dependent on the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

And the political aspect?

The political aspect, as I understand it, is mainly on what happens in Iraq, post-Saddam Hussein. The United States committed itself, as it has for many years, to the territorial integrity of Iraq. Many Turks often assert that the United States is somehow or other interested in creating an independent Kurdish state which will ultimately absorb some of southeast Turkey or lead to a second Kurdish state in southeast Turkey. The United States constantly has asserted it will never support the disintegration of Iraq. It supports an integral Iraq.

How does the military problem relate to that?

The question comes down to Turkey’s role in an Iraqi war. Turkey is not going to fight. But the Turks clearly want to come into northern Iraq, ostensibly, they say, to prevent refugees from fleeing and taking care of them in northern Iraq. Hopefully, Iran won’t take the same position. The Turks also want to influence and assert their own interests in the establishment of a new Iraqi government. Obviously, they are worried again about the emergence of a Kurdish state or a Kurdish entity which is virtually independent.

The United States has agreed to Turkish troops entering in sizeable amounts. I hear anywhere from 40,000 to 60,000, but I don’t know the exact number. They would not go as far as Kirkuk [the main Kurdish oil center]. But they would be based in northern Iraq. And the forces would be under their own control. They would have adequate liaison with the United States.

What happened in the 1991 Gulf War?

In 1991, the United States really wanted three things from Turkey. The most important was the use of bases for the air campaign, for logistics, and for search-and-rescue operations for downed pilots. The Turkish government agreed to that.

The United States also wanted the Turkish government, for symbolic reasons, to send a unit to Saudi Arabia to join with other units. The United States didn’t really need it for actual combat. The Turkish military refused.

Finally, the United States wanted a buildup of Turkish forces along the border, so the Iraqis would be forced to keep its forces in northern Iraq. They did that.

We did not ask [to base] United States ground forces [in] Turkey [in order to launch an attack on] northern Iraq. It was a much different situation than exists today. We did not have a northern Iraq ground campaign. And the requests from Turkey for help, in turn, were far less.

There was another major difference. There was no autonomous, de facto Kurdish area in northern Iraq at that time. The Kurds had been part of Iraq, and were under terrible Iraqi control. So there was no independent area. Now, there has grown up a de facto Kurdish state in the area, which while divided between two Kurdish factions, nevertheless is a fully autonomous, very prosperous, and reasonably democratic entity. Enmity between the two Kurdish leaders has prevented integration. Turkey is deeply worried that in the post-Saddam era, Iraq, the state, will either disintegrate or there will be such a loose situation [that] a de facto Kurdish state [will emerge].

The [Turks] fear that would [stimulate] their own [separatist] Kurds in the southeast, as well as [create] a haven for activities to undermine Turkish control of its Kurdish population in the southeast.

Do you think the Turks have gotten bad press in the U.S. for trying to “blackmail the United States?” Is that a legitimate criticism?

My feeling on that is that it is a lot more complex. One of the complexities is that Turkey feels it was very shortchanged in the first Gulf War in terms of aid.

What did they lose that cost them so much money?

They lost their trade and investment in Iraq. The reason it happened is not so much because of the war, but because we did not get rid of Saddam Hussein. Because of that, we instituted an embargo. The war disrupted tourism for a little while, but it was the failure to get rid of Saddam that produced all the Turkish economic losses. The Turks have exaggerated their losses over the past 12 years, but there is no question that the economy suffered all these years because of the embargo.

Another important factor to consider is that 96 percent of Turkey’s people are against participating in a war against Iraq or cooperation with the United States in an American war. They were against the war in 1991 but not in so pronounced a way.

The obvious point is that if even a determined George Bush had 96 percent of the American people against him, he quite likely would not go to war. The Turkish leaders had to show not only that they were trying to avoid a war through their diplomacy but that if war came, they had done everything possible to protect Turkey’s economic life.

Turkey is still in bad shape economically. The economy has slightly recovered, but [the Turks] are not meeting their IMF requirements and they are looking to the United States to help them in terms of defending their currency and generally providing assistance when and if war breaks out. The United States will give them money to buy oil. The United States will make huge purchases in Turkey. All these are part of the deal. Given the history, the economy, and the politics, one can better understand what the Turks were looking for. At bottom, however, they also had to make a strategic decision, where they stood with the United States. They also had to figure that if they did not go along with the United States and the United States went to war, they would then suffer even more, because there would have been no deal, and they wouldn’t have gotten much.

How many United States troops will be sent to Turkey?

Well, it started out with 80,000 to 90,000, and the Turks were flabbergasted by that amount. And now [the figure is] some 60,000, about two divisions. The troops will be stationed there for only a brief period of time. A lot depends on what happens politically at the United Nations [and elsewhere].

It is interesting that the Turkish democracy is able to support a war and other states are not. The Turks are not insisting on a second United Nations resolution?

It depends. The president of Turkey has insisted on a second resolution. But he doesn’t have the power to order that. There has been some concern among many Turks in the ruling party and among many other Turks that there should be a second United Nations resolution. I don’t think that will preclude an agreement of the type we are talking about.

So the Turks will get credit for being a staunch ally again?

I can’t say that in some quarters in Washington there hasn’t been some erosion of support and some unhappiness, but by and large many of the senior United States leaders recognize Turkey’s economic difficulties and the Kurdish issue. They also recognize there is a new, untested government in Turkey. On the other hand, if Bulent Ecevic [the former prime minister] had been in power, he would have probably been even more adamant about not going to war.

And the generals have stayed out of the debate?

The generals, as far as I can tell, have let the ruling party take the lead on this and suffer the political consequences. There are significant differences within that party’s own ranks. It is like the Labour Party in Britain. On the other hand, [party leaders] should have the moxie, when they present [the deal] to Parliament, to see that it comes out okay. The military remains concerned about the Islamist origins of the ruling party. But in the end, they support the agreement, which they feel is in Turkey’s interest, and will do what they can to ensure the agreement is ratified.

What’s your sense of Kurdish situation? Can the United States keep the Kurds from doing what the Turks don’t want them to do?

The United States obviously has to balance the problem. Clearly, the United States has always stood for the unity of Iraq and no Kurdish state for a variety of reasons. On the other hand, the United States is also sympathetic to Kurdish needs and has protected the Kurds from Saddam for the last 12 years and has allowed the quasi-state to develop. So the United States is searching for ways in which the Kurds get a very fair shake in a new Iraq. Running Iraq after the war will be an extraordinary thing for the United States to do.

What kind of Iraq will be created, what its constitutional character will be, I don’t know, but it will affect the Kurds very much. They won’t want to give up their virtual independence. How you create a situation that preserves Iraq, gives the Kurds a significant degree of control over their lives, and satisfies Turkey will not be easy.

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