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Bush Thanks Turkey for Help in Possible Iraq War - 2003-02-06

President Bush Thursday thanked Turkey for allowing U.S. soldiers to upgrade military facilities in the country ahead of possible action against neighboring Iraq. The Bush administration is continuing its diplomatic push to rally international support against Iraq.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer says President Bush welcomed the vote allowing U.S. army engineers to renovate facilities at Turkish military bases.

Many Turkish parliament members spoke out against helping Washington prepare for possible military action in Iraq. But Thursday they voted to allow U.S. soldiers to improve ports and airports that might be used as part of that attack.

Mr. Fleischer says the vote shows Turkey's resolve to force Iraq to comply with U.N. inspectors searching for weapons of mass destruction.

"Turkey is a stalwart friend and a staunch NATO ally. The Turkish government is facing up to difficult issues in a serious and conscientious way," he said.

Mr. Fleischer says President Bush will continue to work closely with the Turkish government to assure that Iraq complies with U.N. resolutions designed to remove suspected stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons.

With more than 100,000 U.S. troops in the region, President Bush says he will lead his own coalition to disarm Iraq if the United Nations fails to act.

Leading-up to a possible decision on the use of military force, the Bush administration is continuing its diplomatic push against Iraq a day after Secretary of State Colin Powell told the U.N. Security Council that Iraq is hiding illegal weapons and helping terrorists.

Mr. Fleischer says that diplomatic case is finding "increasing numbers" of supporters as the president continues to consult with world leaders.

Ten central and eastern European nations Wednesday issued a declaration supporting the U.S. drive to disarm Iraq. Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia called on the Security Council to take action in response to what they called Iraq's continuing threat to international peace and security.

Mr. Fleischer says the president appreciates their support. "The people of Eastern Europe know well the dangers and risks of allowing tyranny to go unchallenged, and they stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the people of the United States. The president is proud to have their support," he said.

All ten of the European nations that signed-on to the declaration are candidates to join the NATO alliance. They said Secretary of State Powell has presented "compelling evidence" that Iraq is violating U.N. resolutions.