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Bush: US Supports Turkey's Entry into European Union - 2002-12-10

President Bush said the United States will work hard to get Turkey into the European Union. This, as he seeks Turkish support for possible military action to disarm Iraq.

The European Union and the general situation in Iraq topped the agenda when Mr. Bush and his top advisors met at the White House with the leader of Turkey's new ruling party Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

President Bush is making no secret of his desire to build ties with Turkey's new government.

When Justice and Development Party Chairman Erdogan asked for help with the EU, the president quickly agreed. "We join you, side by side in your desire to become a member of the European Union," Mr. Bush said.

Mr. Bush promised to work hard on Turkey's behalf, and noted he is already following through on a request to contact European leaders. Left unsaid was his hope that Turkey will provide access to its bases in the event of a war with Iraq, although he did refer to Turkey's strategic importance.

"You are a strategic ally and friend of the United States and we look forward to working with you to keep the peace," he said.

As he left the White House, Mr. Erdogan said they spoke in very broad terms about Iraq. He told reporters that he made no new commitments of support for a possible military operation to disarm Saddam Hussein.

White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer carried on that theme, saying the discussion of Iraq was very general. "They both agreed that Iraq is a threat to peace and on the importance of Saddam Hussein disarming. They discussed the United Nations process, which is both recognized as a very constructive process in terms of making sure Saddam Hussein conforms to his international obligations," Mr. Fleischer said.

Mr. Fleischer said the United States and Turkey clearly have mutual interests concerning Iraq. But he refused to answer questions about potential U.S. access to Turkish military bases. "As you know my long-standing policy is not to get into any operational specifics. They did discuss ways we can cooperate and I leave it at that," he said.

Turkish support in the event of a war with Iraq is seen as crucial to the White House. Turkey is the only Muslim member of NATO, and shares part of its southeastern border with Iraq.

A sign of the importance placed on the leader of the new ruling Turkish party was evident in the protocol surrounding the White House meeting. Mr. Erdogan was originally scheduled to meet only with National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice. But the meeting was broadened to include not just the president but other top members of his foreign policy team.