- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 10, 2002

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the head of Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party, said yesterday that the newly elected Islamic government wants strong ties with the United States and is ready to support a military strike against Iraq.
Mr. Erdogan said Turkey would insist on the territorial integrity of Iraq and that Washington should take into account the economic effects of any war with Baghdad.
"Needless to say, the elimination of [weapons of mass destruction] from Iraq is essential for the peace of the region that Turkey shares as well as world peace," Mr. Erdogan said last night in a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
"In the event that Saddam's administration does not accede to the decision of the international community, the necessary response will be forthcoming," he said, referring to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
Although he holds no official position in the new Turkish government, Mr. Erdogan is considered his country's most powerful figure. He will meet with President Bush and his most senior advisers today before traveling to the United Nations for talks with Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
Mr. Erdogan's Justice and Development Party, known by its Turkish acronym AK, swept to power in the Nov. 3 elections, which saw all but one of the mainstream parties ousted from parliament.
The AK Party, which traces its roots to a series of banned Islamic-based parties, took nearly two-thirds of the seats in the elections despite the fact that Mr. Erdogan, a popular former mayor of Istanbul and the party's chairman, was banned from running for parliament because of a 1998 conviction for "inciting religious hatred."
The Bush administration has been eager to establish good relations with the new government. Turkish official support, and the use of U.S. bases and overflight rights, could prove critical in the event of U.S.-led military action in neighboring Iraq.
Turkey is also crucial to any deal to end the divided status of Cyprus, with U.N.-sponsored talks facing a critical deadline.
The new government's huge majority puts it in a position to overturn to the legal bar preventing Mr. Erdogan from taking office.
The AK Party's said on its Web site yesterday that he will run for an open seat in a by-election that could be held by early February, clearing the way for Mr. Erdogan to succeed Abdullah Gul, an Erdogan ally who now serves as prime minister.
But doubts persist about the AK Party, both at home and in Europe, where a critical European Union summit at the end of this week in Copenhagen faces a decision on whether to give Ankara a firm date for membership negotiations.
Gen. Hilmi Ozkok, chief of staff of Turkey's politically potent military, has warned Mr. Gul against any efforts to loosen laws against "reactionary movements" threatening the country's secular system.
Mr. Erdogan spent most of his speech yesterday focused on Turkey's EU bid. He warned that Turkey will be the "fault line of the clash of civilizations" if its bid is rejected.
"Turkey's attempt to join the EU must not go unanswered."
Despite U.S. support and aggressive lobbying by Mr. Erdogan, Guenter Verheugen, the EU's point man for enlargement issues, told a Swiss newspaper that Turkish membership would be more than a decade away.

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