By Jim Wolf
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration is consulting Congress on an unusual proposal to transfer U.S. Marine Corps attack helicopters to Turkey, U.S. officials said on Thursday, as Ankara tries to exact revenge for a major attack by Kurdish separatists.
Turkey, a NATO ally, has been seeking AH-1 SuperCobra helicopters to replace those lost in its long struggle against separatist rebels from the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK.
Under the administration's plan, the Marines would get two new, late-model Textron Inc Bell AH-1Z SuperCobras in exchange for the three AH-1W aircraft that would be transferred to Ankara from current inventory, a congressional official said.
The officials declined to be identified because of the matter's sensitivity and because they were not authorized to speak on the record. The idea to take weapons from the U.S. arsenal was rare, they said.
The proposal has been held up amid lawmakers' questions about increasingly distant relations between Muslim-majority Turkey and Israel, a key U.S. ally, among other matters.
The AH-1W has sold previously for about $10 million. Turkey bought 10 of them in the 1990s. The larger, twin-engine AH-IZ may sell for about $30 million, according to industry sources.
Under the U.S. Arms Export Control Act, the executive branch must provide 15 days' formal notice to Congress before going ahead with significant arms transfers to a NATO partner. It was not immediately clear when such notice might take place, with informal congressional consultations continuing.
Turkey last week launched air and ground assaults on Kurdish militants in northern Iraq, vowing to exact "great revenge" after 24 Turkish troops were killed on October 19 in one of the deadliest Kurdish attacks in years.
The PKK is designated a terrorist group by the United States. It is waging a 27-year-old war from bases inside Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region. The administration's proposal to transfer the helicopters pre-dates the October 19 attack on Turkish forces near the border with Iraq.
The United States and Turkey have a strong tradition of military cooperation, both bilaterally and inside the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Turkey agreed last month to host a powerful U.S.-supplied radar system to act as advanced eyes for a layered shield against ballistic missiles coming from outside Europe.
The AN/TPY-2 surveillance radar in Turkey will boost the shield's capability against Iran, which Washington alleges is seeking to build nuclear weapons, a charge Tehran denies.
(Editing by Eric Walsh)