ANKARA(Reuters)–Turkey’s leaders–eager to repair damaged ties with the United States–debated on Tuesday whether to send peacekeepers to Iraq–but deferred a final decision amid strong public opposition to such an operation.
The government and the powerful military General Staff believe sending troops will help erase the bitterness sparked by parliament’s refusal in March to allow U.S. forces to use Turkish territory as a springboard to attack neighboring Iraq. But President Ahmet Necdet Sezer remains wary of sending peacekeepers without a new U.N. Security Council resolution on Iraq–Turkish media said.
"The structural and legal framework of Turkey’s possible contribution to the international efforts (in Iraq) will be decided in line with our national interests and with the democratic decision-making processes of our country," a presidential spokesman’said in a statement after the talks.
Sources said a final decision could come at a meeting of Turkey’s influential National Security Council on August 22. Underscoring the political sensitivity of the issue–police detained four demonstrators outside the presidential palace while Tuesday’s talks were taking place. The protesters threw red paint on the ground and unfurled banners reading "We won’t be America’s soldiers."
In Istanbul–Turkey’s commercial capital–police used batons and teargas against demonstrators and made about 30 arrests.
Financial markets–fearing further upsets in ties with Washington–had kept a careful eye on the talks–but closed higher on hopes that a deal will be reached to send troops. Washington–suffering daily casualties in Iraq–is pressing for a swift decision from Turkey–but the government has said it would like to win the backing of parliament–raising fears of a lengthy wait and a possible second–embarrassing–rejection.
The United States and its main ally Britain are still exploring whether a new U.N. resolution is needed to help stabilize and rebuild Iraq. Washington has doubts about going back to the U.N. Security Council after permanent members France and Russia’strongly opposed its decision to go to war in Iraq.