Turkey Tries to Mend US Ties after ‘No’ Vote

ANKARA (Reuters)–Turkey rushed on Sunday to repair ties with Washington after parliament blocked any US attack on Iraq through Turkish territory–and warned Baghdad not to delay cooperation with the United Nations.

But Turkish leader Tayyip Erdogan–speaking even as US navy ships waited off Turkey’s coast for a green light from Ankara–held out little hope to Washington that parliament might hold a fresh vote on the issue soon.

Prime Minister Abdullah Gul–speaking before an emergency meeting of his Justice and Development Party (AKP)–said friendship with Washington would survive parliament’s rejection of a plan to admit 62,000 US troops as well as warplanes.

Saturday’s razor-edge vote shook the party leadership and dealt a blow to US military plans for a "northern front” against Iraq–with war perhaps only a few weeks away.

In rejecting Washington–Turkey stands to lose a multi-billion-dollar US aid package to shore up a frail economy recovering from its deepest recession since 1945. A $16 billion IMF loan package could also now be seriously in question.

US military planners may now have to abandon plans for a thrust into Iraq from neighboring Turkey that experts say could limit US losses and shorten any war over Baghdad’s alleged weapons of mass destruction.

Ships bearing armor and supplies for the Fourth Infantry Division–now waiting off Turkey’s Mediterranean coast–would have to be diverted quickly south to join an invasion force massing in the Gulf area.

"Our friendly relationship of mutual understanding with the United States will go on,” Gul told reporters.

"The Iraqi leader should not exploit parliament’s decision yesterday. If they misunderstand and delay cooperation with the United Nations then the chance of peace will reduce,” he said.

The United States and Britain have drawn up a second UN resolution designed to authorize force against Iraq–stating that it has failed to respect UN deman’s that it scrap nuclear–biological and chemical weapons programmes.

Diplomats said such a resolution could allow Ankara to present a revised US troop plan–or perhaps proposals simply for use of air bases–in a more sympathetic atmosphere. But no Security Council vote is likely for about two weeks.


Gul later held talks with the powerful chief of armed forces General Staff–General Hilmi Ozkok.

Overnight–dozens of anti-war demonstrators gathered in central Ankara to celebrate parliament’s vote. A jubilant crowd chanted "No to War,” waved flags and some embraced each other.

Erdogan said public anger had played some role in AKP deputies voting against the parliamentary troops motion. Asked if a new one could be considered–he offered little clarity.

"Our government and state is prepared to develop the most appropriate alternatives in line with parliament’s democratic preference and is capable of implementing these alternatives… (but) every alternative has a price.”

Financial markets could face a grueling day on Monday–investors having long assumed the government motion would pass.

Gul said his priority was to protect the economy. "Whatever measure has to be taken will be. There is no need for concern.”

Among factors influencing parliament’s vote–sharp divisions in Europe over the wisdom of military action raised doubts in party ran’s.

President Ahmet Necdet Sezer had also questioned the constitutionality of the resolution–no small matter for a party already viewed by the powerful military with deep suspicion for its Islamist roots.


In Washington–US officials said they still held out hope that Turkey would come around. Defense officials said they could quickly adjust war plans.

If Turkey does not budge–it may also have less of a say in the future of northern Iraq–where it fears the emergence of a Kurdish state that could rekindle armed Kurdish separatism in its own territory.

"Obviously–we’re disappointed,” said a US official. "We’re consulting with the Turkish government on the next steps–in the spirit of the strong friendship and strategic partnership between our countries.”

In a blow to US plans for a "northern front” against Iraq and further clouded President George W. Bush’s efforts to build international support for a potential war.

Although US defense officials said they would adjust their plans for a possible war on Iraq–other officials have held out hope that Turkey would come around and have asked Turkey for "clarification” on the parliament’s action.

Asked whether Washington was hoping for a fresh vote–a prospect Turkish leader Tayyip Erdogan held out little hope for – the US official declined to comment.

"We appreciate the strong support of the prime minister and his government for the resolution–and we respect Turkey’s democratic political process,” the official said. "The United States and Turkey share a commitment to ensuring that the Iraqi regime complies with UN resolution 1441 and eliminates its weapons of mass destruction.”


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