ANKARA, Turkey – Turkey's top military and civilian leaders Friday endorsed basing foreign troops in the country, a move that could open the way for American soldiers to use Turkey as a base for military action against Iraq.
The decision by the powerful National Security Council also called for government and parliamentary approval to sending Turkish soldiers abroad.
The decision by the council comes after intense American pressure for basing rights in the NATO-ally Turkey. Also, Turkish generals have repeatedly said that they want to deploy soldiers in northern Iraq if there is a war to maintain stability.
The Council, which groups the top Cabinet members and generals, issued its recommendation after a 6 1/2 hour meeting.
"The National Security Council recommends ... that peaceful means continue to be sought, and on the other hand that parliament take steps in accordance with Article 92 against unwanted developments and activate military measures necessary to protect Turkey's national interests," the Council said in a statement.
Article 92 of the Turkish constitution says that any decision to send Turkish troops abroad or host foreign troops in Turkey must be approved by parliament.
Council members did not speak after the meeting. The council traditionally issues short statements after its meetings and does not elaborate.
The government has been extremely reticent to allow in U.S. troops and has been pressing for a peaceful solution to the crisis.
Turkey last week hosted a meeting of Iraq's neighbors that called on Baghdad to fully cooperate with the United Nations inspections regime in the country to search for banned chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.
Turkish leaders fear that a war will destabilize the region and derail Turkey's fragile economic recovery.
Polls show that Turks are overwhelmingly against a war and the new government is keenly aware that allowing in U.S. troops has virtually no popular support.
But Turkey depends on the United States for political and economic support.
The United States has reportedly asked Turkey for permission to base 80,000 soldiers in Turkey to open a northern front against Iraq. Turkish officials have asked Washington to scale back its request. Newspapers have speculated that Turkey could agree to the stationing of up to 20,000 U.S. troops.
Turkey's support is considered crucial in any war with Iraq. Turkey already hosts some 50 U.S. aircraft that patrol a no-fly zone over northern Iraq.