The Bush administration cleared the way Thursday for the sale of military helicopters to Turkey, hoping that the aircraft deal and a multibillion-dollar economic aid package will help shore up Ankara's support for a possible war in Iraq.
At the urging of senior U.S. and Turkish government officials, the U.S. Export-Import Bank granted Turkey access to $324 million in loan guarantees to purchase eight S-70B Seahawks and six UH-60 Black Hawks made by Sikorsky, a unit of United Technologies Corp.
The approval comes amid U.S. concern about Turkey's failure so far to agree to allow U.S. troops to launch a possible ground attack from its territory into northern Iraq if President Bush decides to go to war over Baghdad's suspected possession of banned weapons.
The proposed sale stalled last year when a Senate committee chairman balked at extending legislation from the Persian Gulf War era allowing the Export-Import Bank to finance sales of Black Hawks and Seahawks to Turkey and its rival Greece.
Turkey has bought more than 100 of the helicopters made by Sikorsky under the Export-Import Bank program.
In addition to the helicopters, officials say the Bush administration is assembling an aid package for Turkey that could total as much as $14 billion, including loan guarantees and other benefits, to help mitigate the economic shock of any war with Iraq. The U.S. was initially considering a multiyear package in the $4-billion-to-$5-billion range.
Turkey already allows U.S. and British warplanes to use one of its air bases to patrol a "no-fly" zone over northern Iraq.
But Turkey, a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, fears that war on its borders could damage its economy and fuel unrest among its own restive ethnic Kurdish population in the southeast.