- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 15, 2003

ANKARA, Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan formed a new Turkish government yesterday and assumed the post of prime minister, a shift that comes as the United States is pressing Turkey to authorize the use of its airspace for a war against neighboring Iraq's Saddam Hussein.

Mr. Erdogan made the announcement after President Ahmet Necdet Sezer approved his Cabinet list of 22 members in a brief meeting at the presidential palace.

After Parliament's confidence vote for the new government expected early next week Mr. Erdogan plans to consider whether to ask lawmakers to approve opening Turkey's airspace or allow U.S. combat troops on its soil for a northern front against Iraq, the outgoing foreign minister said.

Mr. Erdogan "will try to gauge the support among the legislators and will decide after that whether to submit a new resolution," Yasar Yakis said.

But Washington may be losing hope that Turkey a close ally and the only NATO member bordering Iraq will approve the deployment of tens of thousands of U.S. troops in time.

U.S. officials were now urging Ankara to open up its airspace. At the same time, the Pentagon began moving about 10 U.S. Navy ships out of the Mediterranean into the Red Sea, where they could launch missiles on a path to Iraq that would not go over Turkey.

The Turkish Parliament rejected an earlier request to allow in some 60,000 U.S. troops.

Mr. Erdogan, who was head of the governing party and was already seen as running the country from behind the scenes, has advocated a U.S. troop deployment and has said he wants to put a new resolution before Parliament, which would also include the opening of airspace.

The newly named Cabinet did not include Ertugrul Yalcinbayir, a deputy prime minister and one of the most prominent opponents of the U.S. troop deployment.

There were few other changes in the Cabinet. Abdullah Gul, who had served as prime minister before Mr. Erdogan, was named deputy prime minister and replaced Mr. Yakis as foreign minister. Mr. Erdogan was appointed to form a new government after winning a seat in Parliament in elections last Sunday.

Despite his support for a deployment, Mr. Erdogan has also said Turkey was seeking new assurances from the United States over Turkey's role in the future of Iraq before Parliament can vote on a new resolution.

Vice President Richard B. Cheney called Mr. Erdogan late Thursday and asked that Turkey quickly open its airspace, the daily Hurriyet and other newspapers reported. The call came after President Bush sent a letter to Mr. Erdogan urging the same, the reports said.

Mr. Erdogan made no promises, but said the new government would take up the issue, Hurriyet reported. The paper characterized the telephone call between Mr. Cheney and Mr. Erdogan as "tense."

With the public overwhelmingly opposed to war, Turkish lawmakers are uneasy about the idea of letting in tens of thousands of U.S. troops. They could, however, be more inclined to let U.S. warplanes use the country's airspace.

Refusing the U.S. military access to Turkish soil, however, would cost Ankara $15 billion in promised aid to help cushion the country's economy if war breaks out.

Mr. Erdogan was constitutionally barred from running in November elections because he was jailed in 1999 for anti-secular activities. The party's legislators amended the constitution to allow him to hold office.

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