- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 12, 2002

ISTANBUL Turkish officials braced yesterday for the arrival of Vice President Richard B. Cheney amid fears he was seeking support for a campaign against Iraq that would devastate Turkey's shattered economy.

"It would be futile to expect foreign investments into Turkey as long as the Iraqi issue hangs above us like a nightmare," Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit said on Turkish national television.

"Even speaking of [war] would cause great harm to Turkey. We will be explaining this to our American friends," the prime minister said.

Mr. Cheney is due to visit Ankara for talks with Mr. Ecevit and other members of his coalition government, as well as the powerful Turkish military leadership.

The vice president's 10-day trip to Britain and the Middle East began with a stop in London to meet yesterday with British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Mr. Cheney said he had come to Britain because "the president wanted me to check in first with the prime minister."

Mr. Cheney said he and Middle Eastern leaders would discuss both the Afghanistan campaign and the next steps in the war on terror, but emphasized that he was not announcing decisions on where the next battleground might be.

In recent days, Mr. Blair has attempted to prepare Britain for potential military action in Iraq as part of the next phase in the war on terrorism.

So secret was the itinerary for Mr. Cheney's trip that even the date of his arrival in Turkey had not been announced by yesterday afternoon.

As the defense secretary during the 1991 Gulf war, Mr. Cheney is widely believed in Turkish circles to be on a mission to drum up support among neighboring countries for a future campaign against Iraq.

Turkey's role as a base for U.S. warplanes engaged in missions over Iraq would be vital in any attempt to unseat Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

U.S. and British planes now use those bases to patrol no-fly zones over northern Iraq.

Mr. Ecevit, a left-leaning politician who opposed Turkey's participation in the Gulf war a decade ago, had put pressure on the Iraqi dictator to allow U.N. weapons inspectors back into Baghdad.

Mr. Ecevit last month sent Saddam a letter urging compliance with the U.N. resolutions but received a sharp rebuke from Baghdad that criticized Turkey for allowing allied warplanes to fly from its territory.

Turkey's primary task this year was to deal with an economy that shrank by 8.5 percent last year, the country's worst recession since World War II.

Early figures for this year show the economy continues to sputter despite an emergency $16 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The IMF has said Turkey requires billions of dollars in direct foreign investment, but the country continues to languish well behind emerging Asian and Latin American countries in terms of attracting new foreign capital.

"The Turkish economy is on a very sensitive balance," Mr. Ecevit said. "Tourism has started to develop, but it would be shaken if a worrisome situation in terms of security emerges in our region. The economy would also be shaken.

"We are trying to tell this to our U.S. friends. We do not know their intention. Have they taken a new decision? When Vice President Dick Cheney comes to Ankara, we will openly discuss it with him," he said.

Mr. Cheney and Anthony Zinni, President Bush's special envoy to the Middle East, will be visiting the region at the same time.

Middle Eastern leaders have indicated the Israeli-Palestinian violence is the region's most critical issue, but Mr. Cheney says the United States has the responsibility to work on both the war against terror and the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.

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