Wolfowitz thinks Turkey has an 'attitude' problem

Thursday, May 8, 2003

ANKARA Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz is looking for a change in relations between the United States and Turkey. And he has made clear that the Bush administration is not pleased by Ankara's warming relations with Iran and Syria.

"I'd like to see a different sort of attitude [on Ankara's part] than I have yet detected," Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told the private Turkish CNN-Turk television on Monday. "Maybe it's there, I haven't been to Turkey in a while."

"Let's have a Turkey that steps up and says 'we made a mistake,' " Wolfowitz said.

The Pentagon has repeatedly criticized Turkey for its refusal to allow the United States to form a northern front in the war against Iraq. After months of negotiations, Ankara rejected a U.S. request for the right to move up to 62,000 troops through Turkey and into northern Iraq. The Bush administration had offered Ankara more than $10 billion in loans and grants for the access rights, Middle East Newsline reported.

"I think for whatever reason, they did not play the strong leadership role that we would have expected," Wolfowitz said.

Last year, Turkey launched military relations with Syria. The two countries agreed to hold joint exercises and exchange technical expertise.

Wolfowitz urged Ankara not to establish close military or security ties with Iran and Syria, saying both are nations that support terrorism. He said a U.S.-Turkish reconciliation in wake of the Iraqi war would depend on Ankara's relationship with Damascus and Teheran.

Turkish officials said Washington has told Ankara that Congress would not approve the sale of any advanced weaponry to Turkey if it maintains or expands military or security relations with Damascus. The officials quoted their U.S. counterparts as saying that Turkey's relations with Syria as well as Iran have become a leading source of concern for the Defense Department.

But Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul said Turkey has not formed any alliance with either Iran or Syria. He told the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies that Ankara remains solidly Western despite its failure to allow access to Turkish territory for the U.S war in Iraq.

"Nobody can change this reality, and nobody has any intention of doing so," Gonul said.

Turkish officials said Ankara had asked the U.S. military to end its presence at the Incerlik air base. U.S. aircraft and military personnel were based at Incerlik since 1991 as part of Operation Northern Watch.

"The forces in Incirlik had to be withdrawn as Operation Northern Watch automatically ended after starting of operation in Iraq.," Turkish Air Force commander Gen. Cumhur Asparuk said.

Turkish analysts said Ankara no longer plays a major role in Washington's new strategy. They said the future of northern Iraq will be a key factor in Turkish-U.S. relations.

"If Ankara and Washington cannot see eye-to-eye, a new Iraq crisis might lead to a very bumpy road in future bilateral relations," Turkish analyst and columnist Sami Kohen said.

In an unrelated development, Turkey is hosting a NATO submarine exercise entitled Poseidon 2003. The exercise is composed largely of simulation and includes observers from Middle East states. =

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