U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz is in Turkey seeking support in the event of a war against Iraq. The U.S. official was among several prominent Western diplomats visiting the Turkish capital.

Mr. Wolfowitz met with reporters after meeting with Turkey's new prime minister, Abdullah Gul, but he declined to answer questions about what kind of support the Bush Administration would seek from Turkey if there is a war against Iraq.

The U.S. defense official did however acknowledge that Turkey's crisis-racked economy could be badly hurt in the event of an attack on its Arab neighbor. He said the U.S. government would do its best to help alleviate the effects of a war.

Turkey, which is predominantly Muslim, is expected to play a crucial role in any operation to topple Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, just as it did in the 1991 Gulf War, when it opened its bases to allied aircraft staging bombing raids against Iraqi targets.

According to Turkish media reports, Mr. Wolfowitz asked Turkish leaders to once again allow the use of Turkish bases as well as to provide as many as 35,000 troops for the war.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw is also in Ankara, and is believed to have raised the Iraq issue with Turkey's foreign minister, Yasar Yakis.

Turkey remains deeply skeptical of U.S. plans to overthrow the Iraqi president. It is especially concerned that the Iraqi Kurds would use the turmoil that would likely follow his removal to set up their own independent state.

The Turkish position has not changed under Turkey's new Islamic-rooted government, which swept to power in November 3 elections.

Prime Minister Gul says Turkey remains opposed to unilateral action against Iraq and would only support military action if it were authorized by the United Nations.