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Disappointed Wolfowitz Still Supports U.S.-Turkish Defense Ties

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 7, 2003 – U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz says he still supports strong ties between Turkey and the United States. He maintains this view although he's unhappy over a Turkish government decision that prevented American ground troops from opening up a northern front against Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"I think we had a big disappointment," Wolfowitz told CNN International Turkish Bureau reporters Cengiz Candar and M. Ali Birand during a May 5 Pentagon interview. "But it remains the case that this has been a strong alliance over the years."

"I think," the deputy defense secretary emphasized, "it will continue to be a strong alliance."

Wolfowitz's December 2002 visit to Turkey's capital, Ankara, was partly to persuade officials to allow 40,000 or more U.S. troops access to southern Turkey. His request came as a prelude to establish a strike base from the north into Iraq in case war became necessary if Saddam Hussein didn't jettison his weapons of mass destruction.

During Wolfowitz's visit, the Turks made offers of assistance such as the use of Turkish airspace and certain military bases and facilities -- in the event of war with the Hussein regime.

In fact, Omer Celik, a government political adviser, had noted Dec. 3, 2002, in a separate interview with reporters traveling with Wolfowitz, that the Iraqi people needed to be freed from the yoke of Saddam's regime "and should be helped to get to a real democracy and Western standards."

However, although Turkish officials had their concerns about Hussein, they also made it clear to Wolfowitz that they preferred a peaceful solution to the Iraq-WMD issue.

The Turks were also concerned that any war against Hussein's Iraq could unleash the fervent nationalism possessed by the Kurds in northern Iraq and the Kurds in Turkey's southern regions. During and after the 1991 Gulf War, thousands of Kurdish refugees had streamed into southern Turkey. Such a repeat experience of a mass exodus of northern Iraqi Kurds into Turkey during Operation Iraqi Freedom never materialized.

Also, Wolfowitz's December 2002 arrival in Ankara occurred about a month after election of a new, Islamic-based Turkish parliamentary government. That new government was closely following public polls that showed that up to 90 percent of the citizenry didn't want large numbers of U.S. forces on Turkish soil.

Later, in early March 2003 voting, the Turkish Parliament couldn't muster enough support to allow the deployment of U.S. ground forces into Turkey. The war began March 19, but the Turks continued to balk at allowing large numbers of U.S. troops into their country.

Original American and coalition war plans had called for a two- front strike on Iraq one northward from Kuwait, and a southern strike from Turkey. So the U.S. Army 4th Infantry Division that had been slated to lead the northern drive into Iraq from Turkey was redirected to Kuwait.

In the CNN Turkish interview after hostilities have ended officially, Wolfowitz told the journalists he was disappointed with Turkish government actions. He said Turkey "was prepared to make it difficult for the Iraqi people to be liberated, was prepared to seemingly do deals with one of the worst dictators somebody who probably killed a million Muslims."

Wolfowitz told them he was less than thrilled with the performance of Turkey's powerful military establishment during discussions whether to allow U.S. troops into the country. The Turkish military "for whatever reason did not play the strong leadership role on that issue that we would have expected," he asserted.

Now, however, the deputy defense secretary indicated that his displeasure over Turkish decisions over the Iraq War is water under the bridge, noting, "Okay, that was yesterday."

"Let's have a Turkey that steps up and says 'we made a mistake,'" Wolfowitz asserted. Turkey, he added, should also consider how it "could be as helpful as possible to the Americans" in the post- Saddam era.

"Frankly," he continued, "that's going to help Turkey's interests, because Turkey is going to be one of the countries that benefits most, and most immediately, from an Iraq that is prosperous and free and democratic."

To help improve the U.S.-Turkish defense relationship, Wolfowitz noted that he'd "love to come" to Turkey, noting, its citizens "are creative, imaginative, intelligent people."

"Let's figure out how to make Turkey safe by helping the Iraqis build a stable, democratic country," he concluded.

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