Turkey's Ozal says West overestimates Iraq's military strength


WASHINGTON -- Turkish President Turgut Ozal, whose early support for the trade embargo on Iraq was considered a breakthrough in winning global cooperation for the sanctions, told President Bush yesterday that the world has overestimated Saddam Hussein's military strength.

His assessment came the same day the Pentagon reported that Iraq has added 70,000 troops to its front-line forces near the Saudi Arabian border, raising the total to 430,000. The Pentagon reported no change along the Turkish and Syrian borders, where U.S. intelligence detected increased Iraqi military activity two weeks ago.

Before two hours of White House talks, Mr. Ozal also said his country was willing to withstand the financial pressure of the trade ban for "as much [time] as it requires" to force Mr. Hussein to yield the conquered territory of Kuwait.

President Bush promised in return to help soften the burden on Turkey through expanded trade with the United States.

But the Turkish leader and his top aides also advised Mr. Bush that they believed Iraq's ability to strike back militarily had been overrated.

Mr. Ozal noted that during its recent war with Iran, Iraq was strongly supported by the Soviet Union, France and many Western nations and was financed with a $200 million contribution from Kuwait -- and yet, "The war took eight years."

"How can you say this is a strong army?" Mr. Ozal observed later in remarks at the National Press Club.

A close adviser to President Bush since Iraq's invasion of Kuwait on Aug. 2, Mr. Ozal continued to argue that "it is preferable to resolve this crisis through peaceful means."

In fact, he and U.S. officials said the option of a military strike against Iraq was not even discussed during the White House talks yesterday. But he was unable to predict how long it might take for the trade embargo to be effective and said he was unable to glean an estimate from Mr. Bush.

By choking off two pipelines that carry oil from Iraq and shutting its borders to Iraqi goods, Turkey stands to lose at least $4 billion if the embargo lasts a year.

To help soften that blow, Turkey is expected to draw a significant share of the international aid that U.S. officials have collected from allies around the world.

President Bush announced yesterday that he would also seek to "invigorate" trade relations between the United States and Turkey by reducing or eliminating trade barriers to U.S. markets.

As a first step, Mr. Bush said he would launch talks next month aimed at reducing U.S. textile quotas on Turkey.

That's just what he was hoping for, said Mr. Ozal, who is seeking a more lasting boost for the Turkish economy than a one-time jolt of cash.

"Turkey wants more trade than aid," he said as he left the White House. "We should be partners not only in security cooperation but perhaps even more so in such other areas as increased trade and economic cooperation."

Meanwhile, the Pentagon reported that Baghdad has continued a dramatic military buildup in occupied Kuwait and southern Iraq, increasing its forces to 430,000 troops and 3,500 tanks in the last week. The buildup was described as defensive in nature, indicating that President Hussein was strengthening his ability to hang on to Kuwait.

The Pentagon also announced that call-ups of reserves from all services have reached 21,970. Additional call-ups late this week are expected to bring the total to about 26,000, but the total call-up is likely to fall well short of the 50,000 authorized by Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, military sources say.

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