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Turkish PM: No US Military Action Against Iraq for Now - 2002-03-20

The Turkish prime minister said Tuesday Vice President Dick Cheney ruled out military action against Iraq during talks in Ankara. Mr. Cheney met with Turkish leaders to seek international support for a U.S.-led campaign against global terrorism.

The Turkish prime minister's remarks came after hour long talks with Vice President Cheney. Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Mr. Ecevit said that the U.S. vice president had clearly stated that there would be no military action against Iraq in the foreseeable future.

Mr. Ecevit's statement appeared to contradict an earlier statement by Mr. Cheney in Jerusalem on Tuesday that no decision had been made yet regarding military plans to overthrow Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Following Mr. Ecevit's remarks, U.S. officials in Ankara announced that the vice president had cancelled a press conference scheduled to take place early Wednesday. A U.S. Embassy spokesman would only say that Mr. Cheney had decided to not hold the press conference because of what the spokesman termed a conflict of schedules.

Like most other governments in the Muslim world, Turkey has consistently voiced its opposition to military intervention in Iraq. Turkey fears that the political turmoil that might follow after the removal of the Iraqi president could lead to the territorial breakup of Iraq and the establishment of an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq. An independent Kurdish state on Turkey's border, according to the Ankara government, would rekindle separatist sentiment among Turkey's own restive Kurdish population.

Turkey is equally concerned that a military operation in Iraq could further undermine its shaky economy and keep away millions of tourists. Income from Turkey's booming tourism industry is considered key to the country's economic recovery.

During talks, Mr. Cheney also briefed Turkish leaders on the situation in Afghanistan, where U.S.-led forces are keeping up their campaign against Taleban forces and their allies in the al-Qaida terrorist network.

Turkey has volunteered to lead international peace-keeping troops in Afghanistan when Britain's term as leader of the force expires next month. Turkey has, however, set a number of conditions it says needs to be fulfilled if it is to take on the Afghan peace-keeping mission.

Chief among them is that Turkey is not responsible for finding a successor to lead the international peace-keeping force when its own term expires. Another concern is financing. Turkey has been grappling with the effects of a crippling year-long recession and says it cannot afford to finance deployment and maintenance of the approximately one thousand troops it says it is prepared to send to Afghanistan.

Turkey is the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's only predominantly Muslim member and a key U.S. ally in the region. Earlier this year, Turkey became the first Islamic nation to send troops to Afghanistan. About 260 Turkish troops are currently deployed in Afghanistan. Their role is confined to security patrols and humanitarian relief operations.

Mr. Cheney told Mr. Ecevit that the Bush administration would be proposing a $228 million aid package to Congress to help Turkey offset the cost of sending further troops to Afghanistan.