Published March 17, 2003
ISTANBUL, Turkey – Turkish leaders said Monday they were ready to press ahead with a measure to allow the U.S. military to use Turkey as a staging area for a war against Iraq.
Deputy Prime Minister Abdullatif Sener said the Cabinet would discuss authorization for American troops Tuesday, and parliament could take up the measure Wednesday, private NTV television reported.
"A unanimous decision was reached ... that there is a need to move urgently," presidential spokesman Tacan Ildem said.
An earlier resolution failed by just four votes, and Turkey's government has been dragging its feet on reintroducing the measure. Polls show that more than 80 percent of the Turkish public opposes a war.
The United States has repeatedly called on Turkey's government to quickly resubmit a resolution that would let in tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers to open a northern front against Iraq that would divide Saddam Hussein's army. Turkish and U.S. generals agree the strategy would made a war shorter and less bloody.
On Monday, political and military leaders called on parliament to take steps to let in foreign troops. A series of meetings ended after midnight, as the new Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, consulted members of his Cabinet and the head of Turkey's military, Gen. Hilmi Ozkok.
The military wields enormous influence in Turkey and Ozkok urged parliament to take action toward letting in the U.S. troops.
One hitch: U.S. officials have said that a $15 billion aid package designed to cushion the impact of war on Turkey's economy was no longer on the table because of the delays. As a result, Turkey's market plunged Monday.
Another complication is that any resolution would almost certainly also allow Turkish troops to cross into northern Iraq.
The United States has urged Turkey not to unilaterally send its soldiers across the border. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell called his Turkish counterpart, Abdullah Gul, on Monday to discuss the U.S. concerns.
Turkey is worried that a war could lead to the disintegration of Iraq, with Kurds in the north declaring independence. That, Turkey fears, could encourage Turkish Kurdish rebels.