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Turkish qualms on deployment frustrating U.S.

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WASHINGTON — Senior U.S. officials said they are increasingly concerned that they are running out of time to persuade Turkey to permit the deployment of U.S. ground troops in the event of a war with Iraq.

"From the military planning standpoint we have just about reached the critical mass point for a 'yes' or 'no' from Turkey," said a senior U.S. official who is familiar with U.S. preparations for a potential conflict with Iraq.

While the main ground attack in a war with Iraq would be mounted from Kuwait, the Pentagon would also like to use Turkey to open a northern front by using it as a staging area for a land offensive, the officials said in recent interviews.

Yet, more than a month after deputy defense secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz visited Turkey seeking approval to deploy the American forces, public opinion in Turkey remains overwhelmingly against the war, and Turkey's new government has repeatedly taken the position that it would be politically difficult to accommodate a major deployment of American ground troops.

Compounding the problem, some Turkish officials are insisting that the government cannot make a decision without a second U.N. resolution approving military action. In addition, the Parliament, which by law has to approve the stationing of foreign troops, is not expected to take up the issue until after Hans Blix, the head of the U.N. weapons inspectors, delivers his report on Jan. 27 outlining what has been accomplished in the inspections.

One immediate issue concerns the U.S. plans to upgrade Turkish ports and airfields to accommodate U.S. troops. During this visit to Turkey, Wolfowitz indicated that the Pentagon was prepared to spend several hundred million dollars to upgrade the bases.

A Pentagon plan called for dispatching a survey team to inspect the bases and ports in December so that work could begin on the bases by mid-January. But the survey team has not yet been sent.

Turkey's strategic importance to any assault on Iraq has long been clear. By invading Iraq from the north as well as the south, the United States and its allies hope to strike at Saddam Hussein's overstretched forces from different directions and quickly overwhelm them.