- The Washington Times - Monday, March 3, 2003

ISTANBUL A top member of Turkey's governing party yesterday rejected a quick new vote on letting U.S. troops use the country to open a northern front against Iraq, the second blow to U.S. military planners in as many days.
After a revolt in its ranks Saturday, the Islamic-rooted ruling party is in disarray, torn between popular opposition to war and fears of lasting damage to the historically close ties with Washington.
"Trust between the United States and Turkey is in breakdown," said Huseyin Bagci, professor of International Relations at Ankara's Middle East Technical University. "The decision is good for Turkey's democracy but bad for the U.S.-Turkish strategic relationship."
Eyup Fatsa, deputy head of the governing party's parliamentary group, said there would be no quick revote after Turkey's parliament did not approve a government-backed motion Saturday to allow 62,000 U.S. combat troops into the country for a war against neighboring Iraq.
The move was rejected despite the party's overwhelming majority in parliament.
The decision stunned Washington and seriously jeopardizes U.S. planning for a northern front against Iraq, a crucial part of the American strategy to topple Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
The ruling Justice and Development Party had also placed its prestige on the line, with leaders pressing legislators to vote for the motion. But almost 100 of the party's 362 legislators defected, raising the possibility of disunity and political instability as the United States prepares for war.
"The proposal has been delayed to an open-ended time. There is no proposal for the foreseeable future," Mr. Fatsa told reporters at a Justice party meeting yesterday on whether to resubmit the motion to parliament, which next convenes tomorrow.
It is not clear why the government is delaying a new vote.
Some legislators may fear that pushing forward with a vote could split the party between hard-line factions that oppose the war and the more pragmatic legislators who believe that not supporting Washington could have devastating consequences for Turkey's economy.
The Justice party, which is rooted in Turkey's Islamic movement, unites factions that are more traditional and religious with a more pragmatic group.
The effect on Turkey's economy could be swift.
"There could be a mini-crisis Monday morning when markets reopen," said Bulent Aliriza, director of the Turkey project at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Washington was offering Turkey $15 billion in loans and grants to help cushion the Turkish economy if there is a war. The critical economic pad could be lost now, although neither side has discussed the future publicly.
Ships carrying equipment and some of the 62,000 U.S. troops who would be based in Turkey are off the Turkish coast, a sign of how sure Washington was of Ankara's support.
Turkish leaders sought to play down such concerns yesterday, emphasizing instead the strength of ties between the five-decade-long NATO allies.
"We will continue these relations with mutual friendship and mutual understanding. These [relations] shouldn't be bound to a motion," Prime Minister Abdullah Gul said.
Justice Party leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan also sought to ease concerns that a crisis was brewing within the governing party.

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