WASHINGTON - Turkish Daily News
The Pentagon has confirmed that U.S. officials are in communication with their Turkish counterparts in order to arrange the passage of humanitarian aid to war-torn Georgia. The U.S. naval vessels carrying the shipment would pass through the Turkish Straits to the Black Sea."The State Department is looking at other options (in addition to air transport) for sustaining the humanitarian relief operations and is looking at some naval vessels," Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said Monday. "The State Department is working at the necessary agreements to achieve some passage in the straits of Turkey and things like that," he said."Surface vessels give us the capability to provide larger amounts of relief supplies and they also give you the platform to operate off aerial assets, vertical lifts, those types of things," Whitman explained, according to an Agence France-Presse report. He did not specify the type of naval vessels that the United States wants to send to Georgia.
Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said last week that the United States had a general plan to send two hospital ships, the USNS Mercy and the USNS Comfort, to the Georgian coast for the planned humanitarian aid operation.A U.S. news report suggested at the weekend that Turkey had denied passage through the Black Sea to the two ships; quoting an unnamed State Department official as saying that "Turkey was not helpful."According to the Montreux Convention of 1936, which governs the traffic of military ships to the Black Sea through the Bosporus and the Dardanelles, the number of naval ships from such states cannot, at any given time, exceed nine. In addition, the total displacement, or weight, of those military ships cannot exceed 45,000 tons.But according to official U.S. data, the USNS Mercy's and the USNS Comfort's tonnages both exceeded 69,000 tons, making them ineligible for passage to the Black Sea.The Baltimore Sun newspaper reported Monday that the Pentagon had decided against dispatching the Baltimore-ported hospital ship, USNS Comfort.The USNS Mercy's exact location was not immediately available. According to news reports, it was close to Papua New Guinea, Aug 16, and may, according to speculation by one military expert, at this point be somewhere in the Indian Ocean.
One Turkish diplomatic source said that he did not expect the United States to insist on the USNS Mercy's passage through the Turkish Straits. However, disregarding the Montreux Convention's clear provisions, one leading U.S. lawmaker strongly criticized Turkey for failing to allow the hospital ship's Black Sea passage."As hundreds of Georgian civilians cry out for international assistance, Turkey is dragging its feet on approving the transit of U.S. hospital ships through the Turkish Straits," said congressman Mark Kirk, a Republican from Illinois and a member of the House Appropriations Committee's Foreign Operations Subcommittee and a Navy reserve officer."Blocking humanitarian and medical supplies from reaching the people of Georgia is unacceptable. We should expect more from a NATO ally like Turkey," he said in a written statement.Kirk said he had sent a letter to other members of the U.S. House of Representatives urging them to call Turkey's Ambassador to Washington U.S., Nabi Sensoy, demanding the Ankara government's approval for the humanitarian mission.
Turkey claims it has so far accepted all requests for air transport of humanitarian assistance to Georgia. It says requests for naval transport of such materials will be evaluated under the Montreux Convention's provisions.Ariel Cohen, a Russian expert at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative
“think tank” in the United States, also criticized Turkey for the hospital ships, expressing the view that "Turkey is our NATO ally and, as a friend of Georgia, in my view, should have been more supportive of their Georgian neighbors and of their American allies" He continued, "And this brings back the bad taste of Turkey, for example, barring American troops from going into Iraq through Turkish ports and Turkish territory in 2003 - a step that vastly damaged the Turkish- American relations. I'd hoped we were putting that behind us."
In retaliation to a Georgian attack Aug. 7 on separatists inside the autonomous republic of South Ossetia, thousands of Russian troops poured into the area; eventually invading South Ossetia, Abkhazia, another autonomous republic in Georgia, and parts of Georgia proper. A fragile ceasefire has so far not prompted the Russians to leave the Georgian territory.In a related development Monday, Republican presidential candidate, Sen. John McCain, warned that a Russian move to destroy or gain control of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline passing through Georgia, would further increase Russia's influence on energy matters and be a blow on world energy markets."Russia also holds vast energy wealth. And this heavy influence in the oil and gas market has become a political weapon that Russia is clearly prepared to use," McCain said in Orlando, Florida. "Georgia stands at a strategic crossroads in the Caucasus. The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, which brings oil from the Caspian to points west, traverses Georgia. And if that pipeline were to be destroyed or controlled by Russia, global energy supplies would be even more vulnerable to Russian influence, with serious consequences on the world energy market."