WASHINGTON–DC–In a statement on the House floor earlier today–Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) spoke against the President’s request of $1 billion in assistance to Turkey as part of a supplemental aid package to be considered by Congress in the coming weeks–reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).
In his speech–Rep. Pallone pointed out Turkey’s refusal to allow the use of their bases for Operation Iraqi Freedom and the belated permission for the use of Turkish air space for the operation. "I firmly believe that this package is inappropriate given the minimal amount of assistance Turkey is providing us," explained Rep. Pallone. He then went on to voice concerns about a possible Turkish invasion of Northern Iraq. "Although the [U.S.] President and members of his Administration have assured the American public that Turkey will remain on the sidelines–Turkey continues to amass large numbers of Turkish forces along their border with Iraq," he pointed out. He continued–noting that should the Turkish aid package be included in the supplemental bill–key preconditions should be met including explicit assurances that Turkey not enter Northern Iraq and "Turkey provide full minority rights to its citizens–as provided for in international and European conventions."
The full text of Rep. Pallone’s is provided below.
"Mr. Speaker–I come to the House floor this evening to speak about what I consider to be a dangerous precedent that is included in the supplemental appropriations bill. In the bill that was sent to Congress only a few days ago–the President requested an astounding $1 billion in aid to Turkey that can be leveraged into $8.5 billion in loan guarantees. I have a number of concerns about this deal–which I do not believe has been addressed.
Over the last few months I have repeatedly questioned the wisdom of providing Turkey with a huge economic aid package. In a letter I wrote to Secretary of State Colin Powell on February 24–I expressed my displeasure at the size of the economic package to be provided to Turkey. Estimates on that deal ranged from 6-30 billion dollars. Despite the sum of money that was offered–Turkey did not provide the bases we were already using to enforce the no-fly zones over the last 12 years in Northern Iraq. It appears that because of this decision–our forces were forced to show their flexibility and ship south to Kuwait to engage in combat.
Only last week–after the bombing of Baghdad began did Turkey even grant the US military to have over flight rights. Turkey was the last government in NATO to provide these rights–and it appears that even though they did this reluctantly–they will still benefit from a huge aid package. I firmly believe that this package is inappropriate given the minimal amount of assistance Turkey is providing us.
I am also not convinced that Turkey will not enter the Kurdish region of Northern Iraq. Although the President and members of his Administration have assured the American public that Turkey will remain on the sidelines–Turkey continues to amass large numbers of Turkish forces along their border with Iraq. These troop mobilizations have led the Kurdish militias to set up defense positions along the border as well–creating an unnecessarily tense situation.
The Turkish government also has not promised to stay out of Iraq. They have stated for months that they intend to enter Northern Iraq to set up a buffer zone to not have a repeat of the refugee crisis of the 1991 Gulf War. After it became clear that the Administration would be working closely with the Iraqi-Kurds to deal with the impending humanitarian crisis–the Turkish government switched their stories. This past Saturday–Turkish Foreign Minster Abdullah Gul said that his government would send forces into Northern Iraq to suppress "terrorist activity".
The Turkish government has repeatedly called their own Kurdish citizens "terrorists" in the last few years. The Turkish authorities have recently banned one Kurdish political party and are currently working on banning the other. They have also not fully implemented reforms to give their minority populations property and language rights–one of the many conditions the EU set during Turkish entrance talks.
The tragedy that would occur should the Turkish government enter Northern Iraq would be immense. Turkey has repeatedly shown its inability to govern the Kurds with even marginal respect for human rights. By calling the Kurds "terrorists" as they threaten to enter sovereign territory–the Turkish Government is not only risking the outcome of the current conflict–but the future of the region.
Mr. Speaker–I do not believe that any money should be given to Turkey without a number of assurances. Humanitarian concerns aside–I also do not agree that the aid package to Turkey will make a significant economic impact for the Turkish people. The Turkish government’s inability to implement economic reforms mandated by the IMF continue to plague their banking and economic systems.
Mr. Speaker–the supplemental request will be passed. No one in this Congress will obstruct the important funds that need to get to our brave men and women putting their lives on the line in hostile territory. Their sacrifice in this conflict is in all of our hearts.
But in order for Turkey to receive their huge economic aid package–I believe the Turkish government must fill the following commitmen’s:
That Turkey agrees to allow unfettered US and/or international humanitarian aid transiting through and/or being staged in Turkish territory in support of the Northern Kurds.
That Turkey explicitly agrees not to cross into Northern Iraq–as demanded by President Bush.
That Turkey agrees that they can provide only logistical support to the humanitarian effort in the north.
That Turkey agrees to economic and banking reforms as specified by international lending institutions.
That Turkey provides full minority rights to its citizens as provided for in international and European conventions.
We should not be willing to provide huge sums of money to countries that twist our arm in our time of need. I hope that we can address these needs while debating the President’s Supplemental Appropriations request.