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Cheney Arrives in Ankara - 2002-03-19

Vice President Dick Cheney began talks Tuesday with Turkish leaders in Ankara, the last stop of an 11-nation tour to seek international support for a U.S.-led campaign against global terrorism.

Mr. Cheney's first stop was the presidential palace, where he met with Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer. The vice president is expected to brief 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 peacekeeping 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 need to be fulfilled if it is to take on the Afghan peacekeeping mission. Turkish leaders are widely expected to reiterate those demands to Mr. Cheney.

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 1,000 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.

A possible U.S.-led military campaign against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is another likely topic of discussion between the vice president and his Turkish hosts.

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 break-up 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.