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Talking Turkey

A U.S. delegation heads to Europe to assemble a "coalition of the willing" and to secure Turkey's cooperation.

11:00 PM, Dec 2, 2002 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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LONDON, DECEMBER 2--It was quite a sight: Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Assistant Secretary of State Marc Grossman, and several others, burrowed away in a pod-like enclosure in the middle of an Air Force C-17, speeding across the Atlantic, preparing for a busy three days. Hours later, these members of a U.S. delegation en route to England, Turkey, and Belgium, would be at a London think tank on the banks of the Thames, dressed impeccably--civilians in dark business suits with starched white shirts, the military brass in crisply-pressed uniforms, medals shining.

This small delegation has a big job: solidify support for the coming war in Iraq. To do this, the group will huddle with representatives of the office of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and of NATO allies including the newly elected government in Turkey. Amid intensifying negotiations concerning Turkey's bid to obtain membership in the European Union, this is a crucial moment in the history of that strategically important nation that sits astride the canyon between the East and the West. In addition, this is the first in a series of trips to assemble what President Bush calls "a coalition of the willing" to disarm, and eventually remove, Saddam Hussein.

Iraq still has six days to comply with the requirement of U.N. Resolution 1441 that it declare the totality of its chemical, biological, and nuclear stockpile. But with the continued troop build-up in the Persian Gulf region and war games scheduled next week in Qatar, the trip has taken on a sense of urgency. "Clearly what [the Iraqis] do or don't declare on December 8 will be crucial," says a senior administration official. But, that official adds, "We don't have a lot of time beyond this."

Wolfowitz, who spoke Monday to an audience of approximately 200 at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, thanked Britain and other coalition members for their support of the United States in the war on terror. Iraq, he said, is part of that problem: "Disarming Saddam Hussein and fighting the war on terror are not merely related; the first is part of the second." The passage of resolution 1441 "opened a decisive final chapter in the eleven-year struggle" to eliminate Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

Much of his speech, though, was devoted to Turkey. Wolfowitz acknowledged that Turkey's admission to the EU may take time, but he urged the European Union to give Turkey a firm date to start discussions about accession when the European Council meets in Copenhagen on December 12. (To a certain extent, the likelihood of Turkish acceptance into the EU hinges on an expeditious resolution of what officials call the "Cyprus problem." "The road to Baghdad no longer goes through Jerusalem," said one reporter. "It goes through Cyprus.")

Turkey's strategic importance to a potential war in Iraq can hardly be overstated. In the first Gulf War, the United States depended on the use of Turkey's Incirlik air base to launch operations from the north. (Allied forces still use the base today as part of the "Operation Northern Watch" that patrols the no-fly zones over northern Iraq.) American officials reached tentative agreements on the use of Turkish air bases following negotiations this summer. Those arrangements are somewhat more precarious with a new government in Turkey, and talks over the next two days are aimed at nailing down Turkish support in the event of a war.

"Clearly, for Turkey, a conflict with a country right next door carries risks," says a senior administration official. "These risks are better managed if they are with us than if they stand on the sidelines." And while the U.S. government has vowed repeatedly to take into account the concerns of our Turkish allies, the official says, "one of our messages to them is that we're developing military plans that have a certain momentum of their own."

Stephen F. Hayes is staff writer at The Weekly Standard.