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Turkey's EU Membership in Strategic Interests of West - 2002-12-03

Senior U.S. officials are visiting Turkey Tuesday to discuss the Iraq crisis with Turkish leaders. During a stopover in London, U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz pressed Turkey's case to join the European Union.

The United States is making a strong argument that Turkish membership in the European Union would be in the West's strategic interest as the showdown with Iraq unfolds.

Turkey is Iraq's northern neighbor and a key NATO ally of the United States, which would like access to Turkish military bases in case of a war with Iraq.

In an interview broadcast on British radio before he left for Ankara Tuesday, U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz stressed the importance of Turkey's bid to join the European Union.

"Turkey is at a unique point in its relationship with Europe. And even if the Iraq issue were not on the table at all, it would be very important to be focused on Turkey. The next two weeks could be decisive. If it works out well, we could have a resolution of the long-festering Cyprus problem and we could have Turkey believe that if it meets very high standards, and the standards have to be very high, then eventually it will be allowed into the European Union," Mr. Wolfowitz said.

He also dismissed suggestions that the United States would attack Iraq on its own if Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein does not provide a detailed inventory of his weapons programs by next Sunday, as required by the U.N. Security Council.

"We are under no illusions that this is something that the United States will tackle unilaterally. We intend, one way or another, to do it with as many coalition partners as we can find. So we are going to be talking to a lot of people. If it turns out on December 8 he's [Saddam Hussein] lying, then we have a collective problem. And we have to come up with a collective response," he said.

Mr. Wolfowitz also rejected criticism that the United States is at war with Islam. He said that since 1991, the United States military has assisted Muslim populations six times in Kuwait, Bosnia, Kosovo, Somalia, Afghanistan and the Kurds of northern Iraq.