Turkey: Learning To Dance To Bush's Tune

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ISTANBUL, Feb 05, 2003 -- Under heavy pressure from U.S. officials and the Turkish military, Turkey's leading politicians have signaled a distinct change in attitude towards the United States' Iraq plans.

U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, in a Tuesday conference call from Washington, discussed a range of issues concerning Iraq with Turkish PM Abdullah Gul.

Around the same time, Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Ugur Ziyal met with U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Robert Pearson. According to NTV, Pearson expressed the U.S. expectation of receiving a Turkish decision regarding the administration's Iraq-related demands this week.

AK Party head Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke to AK Party deputies in the Turkish parliament on Tuesday and warned them that Turkey is forced to take "difficult decisions" in the current situation in order to defend Turkish interests. In other words, Turkey will most likely allow the U.S. to base troops on its soil and provide support in northern Iraq. Erdogan also said that Turkey would continue working for peace, but must also prepare for a possible war.

Deniz Baykal, head of the Turkish parliament's opposition CHP (Republican People's Party), yesterday said that "wrong or right" Turkey is forced to support U.S. plans to attack Iraq in order to defend Turkey's interests.

The exact shape of what the Turkish government has assented to will be revealed later this week during parliamentary debate.

One wonders what was said behind the closed doors of the Turkish National Security Council meeting last Friday to incite such an abrupt change. Essentially all of the major political leaders involved in the current Turkish government, even the opposition party, have made an about-face in their public positions concerning the Iraq crisis. Up until last week, Erdogan spoke of nothing but avoiding a war. Now he speaks of making tough decisions to defend national priorities. While speaking to parliament yesterday (his speech was broadcast on every Turkish channel with a news report), Erdogan seemed tired and shell-shocked, as if he couldn't believe what he was saying. Gul and Baykal had repeatedly expressed sentiments similar to Erdogan's.

This situation does have precedent, however. In the months following September 11, then-PM Bulent Ecevit vocally opposed getting Turkey involved in Afghanistan. Pressure from the U.S. and Turkey's generals slowly brought Ecevit around to pledging Turkish troops to ISAF, which Turkey also assumed command of for eight months. Ecevit's reward (apparently) was more loans from the IMF.

Tuesday night Turkish TV was, for the third day in a row, filled with footage of tanks and troop transports heading to the SE by rail and of tearful families saying goodbye to their soldier sons.

Today, Gul announced that legislation regarding the U.S. demands will be introduced to the Turkish parliament tomorrow. "Milliyet" reports that yesterday's phone conversation between Gul and Cheney stuck on one point -- whether or not the three decisions requested by the Bush Administration would
reach final status this week.

Gul reportedly told Cheney that military upgrading of Turkish bases and ports will be decided this week, but that issues regarding American troops coming to Turkey and Turkish troop participation in Iraq will have to wait until after the upcoming nine-day religious holiday.

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