Turkey ignores U.S. warnings, sets high-level contacts with Iran

Thursday, June 19, 2003

ANKARA 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 few weeks.

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 conditions.

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 friendship."

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."

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