WASHINGTON - Turkish Daily News
A first U.S. Navy ship, a guided-missile destroyer, is due to pass through the Turkish straits shortly to carry humanitarian aid to war-torn Georgia after Turkey approved the transit of three American military ships into the Black Sea and amid reports that the Russian Navy is still controlling the sea off the Georgian coast.
The U.S. State Department announced Wednesday that Turkey had accepted the passage of two U.S. Navy ships and a coast guard cutter through the Dardenalles and the Bosporus after days of discussions on the nature of the American vessels to take part in the humanitarian aid campaign.
State Department spokesman Robert Wood said the ships were to deliver thousands of blankets, hygiene kits, baby food and infant care supplies.
"We are working with Turkey to facilitate the transport of humanitarian assistance in the most expeditious manner under the rules of the Montreux Convention," which governs the rules of transit through the Turkish straits of military ships from states without a shoreline on the Black Sea, he said.
Shortly after Woods' announcement the USS McFaul, the guided-missile destroyer, left the Greek island of Crete, heading for Georgia with its load of humanitarian aid materials, Agence France Presse reported, quoting a Pentagon official.
The USS McFaul will later be joined by the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Dallas, which is taking on supplies in Crete.
The USS Mount Whitney, the flagship of the U.S. Sixth Fleet deployed in the Mediterranean, also was ready to go if ordered, but at this point was not going.
War ship, not cargo vessels:
One day earlier Matt Bryza, deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, told the Turkish Daily News the U.S. naval ships to be involved in the aid operation were expected to be military cargo vessels.
But he later confirmed to the Turkish Daily News that The USS McFaul and Dallas were the vessels tasked with the job.
With the USS McFaul's transit into the Black Sea, the United States, for the first time since the eruption of the Russo-Georgian war Aug. 7, will have a military force in the area, although its mission is for humanitarian aid.
Meanwhile, Russian forces took up positions yesterday at the entrance to Georgia's main Black Sea port city of Poti, excavating trenches and setting up mortars facing the city despite Russia's promise to pull back troops from Georgia, the Associated Press reported.
Also the Russian Navy was deployed off the Georgian coast.
It was not clear if the simultaneous presences of the USS McFaul and the Russian Navy in the Black Sea's southeastern part would lead to tensions.
The U.S. destroyer is due to reach Georgia at the weekend and distribute the aid materials next week.
The Montreux issue came to Turkey's agenda last week when the U.S. military announced general plans to send two huge military hospitals to Georgia, through the Turkish Straits. The Transcaucasian country, a close ally of the United States, has been ravaged by the recent Russian invasion.
According to the Montreux Convention, non-littoral states to the Black Sea may keep a maximum of nine military ships in the Black Sea at any given time. Also their total displacement, or weight, may not exceed 45,000 tonnes.
The problem was that both the USNS Comfort and the USNS Mercy, the two hospital ships which the U.S. military had planned to send to Georgia, had tonnages of more than 70,000 tonnes and their passage would be a violation of the convention.
Turkey then apparently opposed the passage of the two hospital ships and later it and the United States agreed on the three ships announced by the State Department.