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Turkey -- sort of -- offers bases for strike on Iraq

©Associated Press
December 4, 2002

ANKARA, Turkey -- Turkey's foreign minister said Tuesday that his country would allow the United States to use military bases in the country for a strike against Iraq, but his ministry later said that his comments were not a firm commitment.

Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis' statement came as U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz was in the country lobbying for Turkey's support of an operation against its neighbor, Iraq.

Yakis' comments were the firmest yet by Turkey on whether it would allow the use of its bases. But several hours after he spoke, the Foreign Ministry issued a clarification that he was speaking of "possibilities," not promises.

The apparent backtracking reflects the sensitivity of the Iraq issue here: The Turkish public is widely opposed to military action against Baghdad, but leaders feel they have little choice but to support a war if their close ally the United States pushes ahead with one.

"The fact that he has referred to these possibilities does not mean a commitment on the part of Turkey, because these possibilities have not been the subject of discussion with any country," the ministry said in a statement.

Turkish officials have previously refused to publicly commit to allow the United States to use bases in a strike against Iraq.

Yakis said Turkey would allow the bases' use -- but only if the United Nations approved military action.

"There should not be left any stone unturned before resorting to a military solution," Yakis said. "But if it comes to that, then of course, we will cooperate with the United States because it's a big ally and we have excellent relations with the United States."

When asked by a reporter to define cooperation, Yakis said, "the opening of air space, first of all, and the utilization of facilities in Turkey."

"The military authorities of the two countries are consulting on the assumption that such a cooperation may be necessary one day," he said.

Yakis' original comments were widely broadcast on Turkish media. The Foreign Ministry later issued its statement "in order to bring clarity to this news."

The Turkish military fears that a war might lead to the collapse of the central government in Iraq and lead Kurds living in an autonomous zone in the north to declare independence. That might encourage autonomy-seeking Turkish Kurds.

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