ANKARA (Reuters)–US Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said on Wednesday Washington would start intensive talks with Turkey on investing hundreds of millions of dollars in military bases that might be used in a war against Iraq.
"I’m quite confident that we will in fact have a significant level of Turkish participation," Wolfowitz told reporters in Ankara where he met Turkish civilian and military leaders.
"Now it should be clearer than ever that Saddam Hussein is surrounded by the international community."
He said earlier Washington had not made specific requests for particular air bases but would start detailed discussions with the newly elected government of NATO ally Turkey.
Muslim Turkey desperately wants to avoid war in neighboring Iraq–fearing it will spread turmoil in the region and damage its crisis-hit economy. But the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government has been at pains to shake off suspicions about its Islamist roots and show its commitment to its US ally.
Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis said on Tuesday that Turkey would open up its bases to the US for military operations if necessary–though it wanted a second UN resolution to authorize the use of force against Iraq. He did not clearly say that a second resolution was a condition of Turkish support.
"What we mean by cooperation is opening air bases and opening facilities to use," Yakis said–adding that Ankara still hoped the standoff with Iraq could be resolved peacefully. Asked if cooperation would include US planes launching combat strikes from Turkey–Yakis said: "Yes… If you’re talking about air bases–yes–those will be opened."
Yakis’s unusually forthright commen’s raised eyebrows in Ankara–where officials are usually guarded in saying how Turkey would support Washington and where opinion polls show most people reluctant to get involved in a war with Iraq.
The Foreign Ministry–playing down the commen’s–said Yakis had not made any commitment to backing US action.
One of Turkey’s top generals–Yasar Buyukanit–was quoted by Hurriyet daily as saying Yakis was probably expressing a personal view. No such decision had been taken by the powerful National Security Council–he said.
Wolfowitz said Washington wanted a peaceful outcome to the crisis and the only way to achieve that was to convince Iraqi President Saddam Hussein that the threat of force was genuine.
"The immediate focus of our planning needs to be to identify how much investment we’re going to make in various bases if we’re going to use them. We’re talking potentially about tens of millions–probably several hundred million dollars."
Asked whether Washington was seeking bases to be used by ground troops–Wolfowitz said: "I think we’re quite comfortable with what we can do from the south (from south of Iraq). Obviously if we’re going to have significant ground troops in the north this is the country they have to come through–there’s no other option."
"Their belief in democracy and the importance of democracy in Muslim countries makes them quite unhappy–agonized might be the word–in looking at the condition of the Iraqi people."