ANKARA, Turkey – Secretary of State Colin Powell told anxious Turkish leaders on Wednesday that President Bush has not yet decided whether the next phase of the war on terrorism should include Iraq.
The United States remains concerned about Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's efforts to acquire nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, Powell said.
``But the president has made no decision with respect to what the next phase in our campaign against terrorism might be,'' he said.
Turkish officials had pressed Powell to clarify the U.S. position amid rising speculation that the United States might go after Iraq next.
``No country would like to see trouble in its neighbor(hood),'' Turkish Foreign Minister Foreign Minister Ismail Cem said in a joint news conference with Powell.
Powell welcomed ``positive developments'' in talks in Germany over a post-Taliban government. Afghan factions agreed on an interim government for the next six months headed by anti-Taliban commander Hamid Karzai.
``Now the real work is ahead as we put that interim government in place in Kabul,'' said Powell.
Powell said the United States will consult with allies over ``what support may be required to make it a viable government.''
Turkey, the first Muslim nation to pledge troops to be Afghan peacekeepers, has voiced concern about widening the war to Iraq.
``We don't want an American operation concerning Iraq,'' President Ahmet Necdet Sezer said on Tuesday.
Some hard-liners in the Bush administration want Iraq to be the next theater in the war, but Powell insisted no decision has yet been made.
``The president has indicated for a long time that we are concerned about Iraq as it tries to develop weapons of mass destruction. We're doing everything we can to keep it from getting such weapons. We also know that Iraq is a sponsor of terrorism over the years. And that continues to be a concern of ours,'' Powell said.
Ankara was the second stop on Powell's eight-day, 10-nation tour of Europe and central Asia.
After a wreath-laying ceremony at the tomb of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey, Powell on Wednesday had separate meetings with Sezer, Cem and Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit.
Powell was heading next for Brussels, Belgium, for discussions with NATO representatives. He goes to former Soviet republics in central Asian later in the week and to Moscow over the weekend.
The trip's main theme of rebuilding Afghanistan has been overshadowed by the flare-ups in the Middle East this week. A suicide bomber set off an explosion Wednesday outside a hotel in Jerusalem, following two days of Israeli military strikes against Palestinian targets in Gaza and the West Bank.
Noting that latest incident, Powell on Wednesday repeated a U.S. plea that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat do more to control terrorist organizations. He suggested the latest violence did little to buttress Arafat's claim that he was making a 100-percent effort to end the violence.
``We'd like to see a zero level of violence,'' Powell said. ``As long as bombs keep going off, it's very difficult to put in place conditions leading to a cease fire.''
Powell said Turkey has an important role to play in the Middle East ``as a friend of both sides.''
Turkey was a launching pad for allied air attacks against Iraq in the 1991 Gulf War. There remain about 50 U.S. warplanes in southern Turkey to monitor a ``no fly'' zone over northern Iraq.
Recent remarks by President Bush and other U.S. officials have fueled speculation that an Iraqi campaign might be next. Bush late last month challenged Saddam Hussein to allow U.N. weapons inspectors back into Iraq and declared that Saddam would ``find out'' the consequences if he refuses.
The Turkish government fears that if Saddam is overthrown, Iraqi Kurds who control a de facto autonomous zone in northern Iraq would take advantage of a power vacuum to establish a Kurdish state. This, in turn, could boost the aspirations of autonomy-seeking Turkish Kurdish guerrillas.
A war in Iraq could also deepen Turkey's economic problems.
Cem told reporters that Turkey's reluctance to see an Iraqi campaign was well known to the United States. He called on Iraq to fully comply with all U.N. resolutions.
Powell applauded Turkey's offer of troops for duty in Afghanistan. At this point, ``we haven't discussed a specific role that Turkish peacekeeping forces might play,'' he said.
Powell also said he would bring back to Washington Turkey's requests for to lower U.S. duties on Turkish textile and other exports.