ANKARA – Senior officials from Turkey and the United States launched two days of talks in Ankara yesterday on Turkish demands for more trade between the two close allies. Turkey and the United States enjoy a close strategic partnership, enhanced recently with Turkey’s strong support for the US-led anti-terror campaign in Afghanistan. The two countries agreed last month to raise trade relations to «the same level» as security ties. The meeting is «to show that our economic relationship is just as central to our strategic partnership as is our political relationship and our security relationship,» said Alan Larson, the US State Department’s undersecretary for economic, business and agricultural affairs. Larson is heading a US delegation to the first US-Turkey Economic Partnership Commission, created in January during Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit’s visit to Washington. The September 11 attacks have highlighted predominantly Muslim Turkey’s importance as a secular government and the sole NATO ally in the Muslim world. Analysts say that’s why the United States is keen to help its ailing economy, which shrank an estimated 8.5 percent last year amid a deep crisis. Turkish support is also deemed crucial to any military operation against Iraq, which some analysts believe may be the next target in the US anti-terror campaign. Turkey was a launching pad for attacks against neighboring Iraq during the Gulf War. Turkish officials are seeking quota-free trade advantages similar to those extended to European Union countries, and the creation of qualified industrial zones in Turkey, like those established by the United States in Jordan. Output from the zones can enter the United States free of tariffs or quotas. Ankara would also like to attract more US investment, and persuade Washington to raise quotas for textile imports from Turkey and write off some or all of Turkey’s more than $5 billion of military debt with the United States. The Turkish economy needs quick and joint remedies,» said Ismail Cem, Turkey’s foreign minister, at its opening session yesterday. Last year the United States imported $3.1 billion worth of Turkish goods, including textiles, precious stones and metals, and iron and steel. US exports to Turkey, including aircraft and machinery, were worth $3.9 billion. The US has supported International Monetary Fund loans to Turkey that earlier this year made Turkey the Fund’s biggest borrower, with total loans of $31 billion. – On Capers, NCSC has fixed M/V «Alina» 179,000 dwt, built 1986, delivery UAE March 3-4 trip via Richards Bay (S. Africa), redelivery Passero, at USD 11,350 daily.