U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz was in Turkey Tuesday for talks with the government in Ankara about the possibility of U.S. military action against Iraq.
In remarks to reporters after his meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit, Mr. Wolfowitz stressed Turkey's importance to the United States, describing it as a superb ally. Mr. Wolfowitz, who also met with Turkish defense minister Sabahattin Cakmakoglu, praised Turkey's leadership of the international peace keeping force in Afghanistan.
However, the U.S. defense official declined to offer any details of his discussions regarding a possible military campaign against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
Turkish officials who took part in the talks told the private NTV news channel that the U.S. official had made clear U.S. resolve to remove Saddam Hussein from power. Turkey has long made known its opposition to U.S. plans to overthrow Saddam Hussein, saying that Iraq's Kurds would take advantage of the turmoil and set up their own state.
In his remarks to reporters, Mr. Wolfowitz acknowledged Turkish concerns, reiterating the Bush administration's firm opposition to an independent Kurdish state in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq.
Turkey fears the emergence of a Kurdish state on its borders would re-ignite separatism among its own restive Kurds. The Iraqi Kurds have been virtually independent since the end of the 1991 Persian Gulf War. That is when the allies established the no-fly zone over Kurdish controlled northern Iraq. The Kurdish safe haven is protected by U.S. and British warplanes based in southern Turkey.
Turkey played a key role during the Gulf War by allowing coalition planes to stage bombing raids against Iraq from Turkish bases. Turkey's support is viewed by the Bush administration as crucial to any new military campaign to overthrow the Iraqi government.
Turkey says it has lost around $40 billion as a result of economic sanctions imposed on Iraq, which used to be Turkey's second largest trading partner before the Gulf War. Two-way trade between Turkey and Iraq has climbed back to $1 billion in recent years. Any disruption of that trade would deal another blow to Turkey's crisis-racked economy.