Cablegate: Turkish Official On Rail Link with Iraq, Syria

Published: Thu 25 Sep 2003 01:14 PM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Turkish Official on Rail Link with Iraq, Syria
1. (SBU) Summary: A Turkish railway official told us
that rail has moved relatively little cargo, including
humanitarian aid, to Iraq in recent months, but that
there are plans to begin moving some fuel by rail. Our
interlocutor contended that steep Syrian transit fees
were a serious obstacle to more intensive use of rail
delivery of cargo. Turkey has developed plans for a
direct rail link, but the country's infrastructure
priorities lie elsewhere and the cost of building 130
new kilometers of track is prohibitive. End Summary.
2. (SBU) At a September 24 meeting with Econoff and Econ
Specialist, Deputy Director General Erol Inal, of the
Turkish Railroads Administration, told us that, compared
with trucking through the Habur Gate, the railways had
not played a major role in trade or the supply of
humanitarian aid to Iraq in recent months. Inal said
humanitarian cargo had been limited to water, beverages,
private donations of children's items and the like.
However, the railway will begin to transport fuel oil
and gasoline under a barter arrangement. Turkey has
asked the Iraqi side to supply the wagons for this
trade. Inal said that Germany may also contribute some
wagons for this barter arrangement. Inal stated that
the railway had carried passengers as well as cargo to
Mosul and Baghdad prior to Operation Iraqi Freedom, but
that passenger service was suspended at the outbreak of
the war and has not restarted due to security concerns.
3. (SBU) Turkey has no direct rail link with Iraq. The
railway enters the northeast corner of Syria at
Kamisli/Al Qamichli and passes to northern Iraq 82
kilometers later on the way to Mosul. Inal complained
that the Syrian Government has disadvantaged the railway
by charging excessive transit fees in an effort to
promote use of its port at Latakia/Al Lathigiya. He
provided data showing that Syrian fees of about 9 Euro
per ton for the 82-kilometer stretch of track were more
than half the tariff charged to move cargo the
considerably greater distance from Mersin and Iskenderun
ports to the Turkish-Syrian border. He said that recent
Turkish-Syrian-USG trilateral discussions on these fees
had not yielded results and he urged the USG to press
the Syrians for relief.
4. (SBU) Inal stated that Turkey has developed plans for
a rail bypass of Syria, but this infrastructure project
is not likely to be implemented anytime soon. The
project would require 130 kilometers of new track on
Turkish territory and about 50 kilometers of new track
in Iraq at an estimated total cost of USD 750 million -
roughly equal to Turkish railways annual operating
expenses. Inal stated that, while this project was
important to Turkey and presumably to the USG, other
infrastructure projects in western Turkey have been
given higher priority, in part because subsidized
credits have been made available to fund them.
5. (SBU) Comment: As our military learned in the lead-
up to Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Turkish railway
network is in bad shape. The state railways have
consistently posted large operating losses, making the
outlook for significant investments - particularly in
the context of Turkey's larger budget woes - grim.
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