- The Washington Times - Monday, March 3, 2003

The United States Monday is hoping for a change of heart from Turkey, which denied Washington access to its military bases in the event of war in Iraq, following a weekend that saw three Arab states asking Saddam Hussein to step down, and threats from Iraq to stop the destruction of a proscribed missile.

Tayyip Erdogan, leader of Turkey's ruling AK party, met with the group's executive board Sunday to asses the steps to be taken after Saturday's vote in parliament that saw a measure to allow up to 62,000 U.S. combat troops in Turkey falter. The rejection was seen as a setback to Washington, which was planning to open a northern front to topple Saddam.

Erdogan said little about whether the proposal would be reintroduced to parliament, but indicated there may be room for maneuver.

"There are always alternatives for every problem and the government is ready to bring in the best appropriate alternative in the light of the parliament's democratic decision of Saturday," he said.

However, he added, "Every alternative carries cost of its own."

He also warned Iraq not to take advantage of the situation.

"At this moment the mistake that the Iraqi administration would do to misunderstand the parliament's decision and to slow down the cooperation with the U.N., " he said. "On the contrary, Iraq should read the message carefully and speed up its cooperation under more active, transparent and intensive way."

U.N. inspectors are at present in Iraq in line with Security Council Res. 1441 and are searching for proscribed weapons of mass destruction. Resolution 1441 calls for Iraq's full cooperation with the inspectors and warns of "serious consequences" if Baghdad fails to comply.

The United States and Britain say Saddam has a history of lying to the world body and say he must be disarmed sooner rather than later and with force if necessary. The other permanent members of the Security Council - France, Russia and China - back a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

Washington has said if the United Nations does not act, it will do so with a "coalition of the willing."

On Sunday, three key Arab states threw their weight behind a proposal seeking Saddam's resignation in order to avoid war. Bahrain and Kuwait joined the United Arab Emirates in asking Saddam to step down. Kuwait and Bahrain are home to thousands of U.S. troops assembled in the region.

The plan "is the only Arab way out to protect Iraq and spare its people and the whole region the threats" of war, the Emirati news agency quoted Bahraini King Sheik Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa as saying.

Iraq has already rejected such a move. In an interview with CBS' Dan Rather last week, Saddam said he would die in his country.

But on Sunday, Macau casino tycoon Stanley Ho issued an offer of political asylum from North Korea to Saddam.

North Korea and Iraq are two members of President Bush's "axis of evil." Iran is the third.

Ho told the Sunday Morning Post that "unnamed senior level officials" informed him the Iraqi leader and his family could take refuge on a mountain in the north of the isolated country.

"We have to take any chance to have peace, especially if it comes in the shape of good news from the East," the newspaper quoted Ho as saying.

"They told me there really was a chance to prevent a war, and said that Saddam Hussein could step down two days before the U.S. and Britain started to

bomb and he could call democratic elections."

Also Sunday, Iraq warned that if the United States went ahead with its war plans it would stop destroying its al Samoud-2 missiles, which the United Nations says is illegal.

"If it turns out at an early stage during this month that America is not going to a legal way, then why should we continue?" Iraq's scientific adviser Lt. Gen. Amer al Saadi said at a news conference.

U.N. inspectors said Iraq on Sunday destroyed six of the missiles.

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