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US Undecided On Military Action Against Iraq - 2001-12-05

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said that the United States had not yet decided if Iraq will be the next target in the U.S. war on terrorism. Mr. Powell met with Turkish leaders on the second leg of a weeklong tour of European and Central Asian states.

Speaking at a joint news conference with his Turkish counterpart, Ismail Cem, Secretary of State Powell said President Bush had not yet made any decision regarding possible military action against Iraq and that he had not received any recommendations from his policy advisors about what to do next in the war against global terrorism.

Mr. Powell added that the question of how Turkey could contribute to any future operation against Iraq, therefore was not, in his words, "on the table yet."

Mr. Powell thanked Turkey for what he termed its solid support in the war against terrorism, which includes committing Turkish troops to ongoing military operations in Afghanistan as well as opening up its bases to U.S. military planes.

Turkish officials confirmed that the issue of Iraq figured prominently in talks held between Mr. Powell and Turkish leaders, including Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit and President Ahmet Necdet Sezer.

Turkey has long been opposed to military action against its southern neighbor, fearing that actions aimed at overthrowing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein could spread turmoil to Turkey.

Turkey's chief concern is that the forcible removal of the Iraqi leader could result in the dismemberment of the country and the establishment of an independent Kurdish state in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq. Turkey has been fighting Kurdish separatist rebels on its own soil for more than a decade.

Mr. Powell reiterated U.S. demands that Iraq comply with United Nations resolutions and allow U.N. weapons inspectors back on its soil. Those demands were echoed by Turkish Foreign Minister Cem. Mr. Cem said Turkey was opposed to all forms of terrorism and to all nations which supported terrorism no matter their geographical location.

Mr. Cem's remarks have been widely interpreted by analysts here as indicating that Turkey will cooperate with the United States in whatever measures it decides to take against Iraq should Baghdad fail to comply with United Nations resolutions.