Bush plays down Kurdish fighting, plans increased aid for Turkey


ANKARA, Turkey -- President Bush expressed concern yesterday over last week's renewed clashes between Kurdish rebels and Iraqi troops, but he said the immediate problem appears to be "getting resolved" and indicated that he saw no immediate role for U.S. troops.

Mr. Bush spoke at a news conference as he pressed ahead with efforts to demonstrate an increased U.S. commitment to Turkey in gratitude for its steadfast backing in the Persian Gulf war.

The president expressed overall support for Turkey's military modernization program, including co-production with General Dynamics of 160 F-16 fighter jets. In a meeting with Turkish President Turgut Ozal, Mr. Bush privately pledged support for initial production of 80 jets, an administration official said.

Mr. Bush is pushing for congressional approval of $700 million -- a $200 million increase -- in military and economic assistance next year for Turkey. Greece would get $350 million, a formula that would break the pattern, imposed by Congress, under which Greece receives $7 for every $10 given Turkey.

According to Turkish estimates, the economic embargo on Iraq and the gulf war cost Turkey about $7 billion in lost royalties from the pipeline that carries Iraqi oil (which Turkey shut off), slashed fees from international trucking firms and a decrease in tourism.

"We know the cost of your courage. Turkey has incurred enormous damage," Mr. Bush said in a toast prepared for a state dinner at the presidential palace atop a hill overlooking this modern capital.

The renewed fighting in northern Iraq at the end of the week lent pointed timeliness to Mr. Bush's visit, the first by an American president since Dwight D. Eisenhower visited Turkey and Greece during a global tour in 1959.

U.N. officials said the fighting involved Kurdish guerrillas and Saddam Hussein's troops and left as many as 500 dead or wounded. But Bush administration officials said that details of the fighting were unclear and that some of the clashes may have involved Kurds fighting Kurds in feuds.

About 2,500 to 5,000 allied forces, including U.S. troops, are to be stationed across from the Iraqi border in southern Turkey as a rapid response force to protect the Kurds from Iraqi attacks.

Indicating he did not see an immediate role for the troops, Mr. Bush said in response to a question at the news conference: "I don't think if the question implies that we're going back to what we were when the war ended and major, massive attacks were launched against the Kurds, that we're seeing something like that taking place here.

"It's a matter of concern to us," he said. But, he added, "I understand that the matter is, hopefully, getting resolved."

As Mr. Bush, 67, completes a nine-day, four-nation tour that began last Sunday in France and ends tomorrow morning in Istanbul, he confessed "to being a little bit tired -- a lot of evening action out there coupled with getting up pretty early."

"I'm feeling great," he said. But then he added: "I'm 67 still, and I have to confess that from time to time I get tired."

The normally security-minded Turks, who have lost a dozen of their diplomats to attacks by Armenians and Greeks, adopted extreme measures for Mr. Bush's two-day visit. Around the residence of Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz, which Mr. Bush also visited, were hundreds of police in riot gear with M-16 rocket launchers and grenades.

A revolutionary leftist group called Dev Sol has said it wants to assassinate Mr. Bush during his visit.

One week after he returns to Washington, the president is scheduled to leave for Moscow and a summit conference with Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev.

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