Turkey's Erdogan weighs NATO role; Asked Gadhafi to end war, 'but he did not listen'

Tuesday, March 22, 2011   E-Mail this story   Free Headline Alerts

ANKARA Turkey, despite the government's opposition, has been preparing for a role in NATO's assault on Libya.

Officials said the government of Prime Minister Recep Erdogan has been discussing with the military a series of options regarding participation in the NATO mission against Libya. They said the options ranged from intelligence and surveillance to combat missions.

"We can not just sit and watch when Libya is shedding blood," Erdogan said.

Turkey was one of the few NATO members that opposed the Western campaign against the regime of Libyan Col. Moammar Gadhafi. But officials said Erdogan has decided that Turkey could not remain neutral after a United Nations Security Council resolution against Tripoli's war on the rebels.

On March 21, Erdogan convened a meeting of military and intelligence commanders to discuss Turkey's options. Officials said the prime minister met with the military's General Staff and the National Intelligence Agency regarding the situation in Libya. Later, the prime minister was said to have telephoned U.S. President Barack Obama, regarded as a major ally.

Erdogan said he tried to persuade Gadhafi to end the war against the opposition movement. The prime minister said Gadhafi must resign.

"I held phone conversations with both himself and his son on March 1 and called on him to respect the will of the Libyan people," Erdogan said. "But he did not listen."

Turkey has the second largest military in NATO. The Turkish Air Force is based on the U.S.-origin F-16 multi-role fighter-jet, an asset shared by many NATO states.

"I don't think Turkey will oppose NATO's decision," Turkish analyst Cagri Erhan said. "Turkey's policy has to be in line with its ambitions of becoming a regional leader.

On March 21, Erdogan, however, again warned against a NATO invasion of Libya. But the prime minister did not rule out Turkish participation in such a mission.

"Military intervention by NATO in Libya or any other country would be totally counterproductive," Erdogan said. "In addition to being counterproductive, such an operation could have dangerous consequences."

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