- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 6, 2003

ANKARA, Turkey, Feb. 6 (UPI) — Turkish parliamentarians Thursday approved a measure granting the United States the authority to repair its bases and ports in Turkey ahead of a possible war on Iraq.

The vote on the authorization, which will be valid for 3 months, was taken in a closed session. The government-backed proposal had 308 votes in favor and 193 votes against. Nine deputies in the 550-seat parliament abstained.

The authorization allows the arrival of some 4,000 U.S. engineers and logistics experts to work on the upgrading of military bases, particularly the southern ports of Iskenderun and Mersin. The cost of the expenditure is expected to be some $50 million.

Prime Minister Abdullah Gul's government, however, held off on submitting until Feb.18 another proposal allowing the deployment of U.S. combat troops. Gul, who heads the Islam-rooted Justice and Development Party, asked for a closed-door vote because of the strong anti-war sentiment in the country.

Defending his government's proposal, Gul said the authorizations did not mean Turkey was taking part in any war against Iraq.

"Turkey will not enter (the) war," he told reporters before the vote.

He later added: "We will continue to effort for peace until the very end."

Secular Turkey, which shares a border with Iraq, is NATO's only predominantly Muslim member and is a key regional ally of Washington. Washington seeks Turkey's active cooperation and wants to open a northern front in any combat with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's troops.

Turkey has begun deploying and moving artillery along its around 200-mile border with the Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq.

Washington believes Iraq is deceiving the international community and possesses proscribed weapons of mass destruction. It says Saddam poses an immediate threat to the region and the world and so must be disarmed with force if necessary. Turkey's approval of a U.S.-led war would be a key victory for the Bush administration's efforts to win worldwide support for military action.

In a related development, Iraqi Vice President Taha Yasin Ramadan visited Ankara Monday, the daily Hurriyet said Thursday. Ramadan reportedly met Gul in a closed-door session for three hours.

Also Thursday, Baghdad's ambassador in Ankara, Talip Abid Salih, warned Turkey against cooperating with the United States.

"For us, allowing any bases to be used or helping the United States would mean taking part in the war," he said. "It is only a friendly advice to Turkey."

U.S. Undersecretary of Treasury John Taylor is expected to arrive in Ankara later Thursday to discuss and possibly sign a deal to offset Turkey's financial losses in the case of war.

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