ANKARA Ñ Turkey's military has approved the launch of a high-level
dialogue with Iran.
Turkish officials said the decision by the General Staff could threaten
efforts to improve relations between Ankara and the United States. They said
the Bush administration has warned Turkey not to improve military relations
with either neighboring Iran or Syria.
Turkish Chief of Staff Gen. Hilmi Ozkok has approved an Iranian request
for the visit of a high-level Iranian military delegation to Ankara.
Officials confirmed that Turkey has approved the visit. On Wednesday,
Foreign Ministry spokesman Huseyin Dirioz said the government is examining a
date for the Iranian general's visit to Turkey, Middle East Newsline reported.
Officials said Ozkok agreed to invite Iran's army commander, Gen.
Mohammed Selimi, in a visit that could take place within the next
The Ankara-based Milliyet daily reported on Wednesday that the Iranian
embassy in Ankara relayed the request to the General Staff for the visit by
the Iranian army commander. The daily said Turkish Foreign Minister
Abdullah Gul expressed reservation over the Iranian visit.
Officials said the visit by the Iranian military delegation could
torpedo efforts to restore defense and military relations between Ankara and
Washington. The U.S. Defense Department has suspended its dialogue with
Turkey's Defense Ministry and imposed conditions for its renewal.
One of the conditions was that Turkey refrain from improving relations
with Iran or Syria. The administration has allocated $1 billion to Turkey as
special aid for the Iraq war in 2003, but Congress has imposed a series of
The Turkish invitation to Iran came during the current visit by Turkish
Foreign Undersecretary Ugur Ziyal to Washington. Ziyal has met senior
administration officials, including Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz,
who has been a severe critic of Ankara's refusal to allow U.S. troops
through Turkey during the war in Iraq. The semi-official Anatolia news
agency said Ziyal submitted a plan for Turkish cooperation
with the United States in Iraq.
On Tuesday, State Department deputy spokesman Philip Reeker called
Turkey a strategic ally of the United States. Reeker, in a departure from
the criticism at the Pentagon, said this partnership will endure despite the
lack of cooperation during the war in Iraq.
"Our relations with Turkey are strong, broad," Reeker said. "We have a
long, deep history together, and we have a lot of work to do in the future.
We have got a lot of shared interests, and certainly value Turkey's
At the same time, Ziyal was lobbying for a restoration of U.S.-Turkish
relations. Speaking to the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute,
the Turkish official termed strategic relations between Ankara and
Washington as robust.
"There is a strategic partnership between us," Ziyal said. "There are
common goals. There were
important problems between the two countries in the past, however all those
problems were completely overcome."