Turkey moves slowly toward accepting U.S. troops


ISTANBUL, Turkey - Prime Minister Abdullah Gul said yesterday that he would ask Parliament this week to consider measures that could clear the way for American combat troops to use the country as a base for an invasion of Iraq.

Speaking briefly to reporters, Gul did not explicitly say what measures he would ask Parliament to consider, but he said Turkey needed to take steps to protect its national interests.

"We will apply to Parliament within the week," he said.

His announcement followed a decision last week by the country's top civilian and military leaders to prepare the country for war.

Gul and his government are under heavy pressure from the Bush administration to allow thousands of American troops to use Turkey as a base for a possible campaign against Iraq.

The request, which has roiled public opinion here, has been pending for months, and U.S. officials say Turkey's leaders are running out of time to decide.

It is unclear what would happen if Turkey rejected the request. But the Bush administration has indicated that it would reward Turkey economically if the country accommodates American military plans.

Yesterday, speaking on the condition of anonymity, a Western diplomat in Ankara, the capital, suggested that the Turkish government needed to make up its mind this week or run the risk that American military planners would move ahead with an alternate strategy.

Saturday begins the nine-day Muslim holiday Kurban Bayram, after which, the diplomat said, American military plans might be too far along to accommodate a belated Turkish decision to accept the troops.

"We have tried to communicate to them very clearly that time is very urgent," the diplomat said. "The president said weeks, not months."

American military planners want to deploy thousands of American troops to Turkey to prepare for a possible attack across Iraq's northern border. A northern campaign would presumably tie up Iraqi forces and free the main American force attacking from Kuwait.

Despite the American pressure, Gul was quoted as saying in Turkish newspapers over the weekend that his government would ask only for permission to allow American crews to begin upgrading Turkish military bases, while saving for another time authorization for American troops.

The Western diplomat said such a decision would probably scuttle any chances of extensive Turkish-American cooperation in a war with Iraq.

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