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Last Updated:  Friday, 21 February, 2003, 10:53 GMT
Turkey's tough balancing act

By Jonny Dymond
BBC correspondent in Istanbul

Turkish anti-war protesters
There is deep hostility to war in Turkey
Turkey is caught. No one in the country is in favour of war. Few, if any, want to have the country used as a base for US troops.

But to turn down the United States entirely would leave Turkey so economically and politically exposed as to be almost unthinkable.

So Turkey has played for time over the weeks and months, trying to placate both a population that is overwhelmingly hostile to a war with Iraq and keep on-side its key ally, the United States.

Turkey's opposition to war runs very deep; the most recent opinion poll indicates as many as 94% of the population are hostile.

Most people have no time for Saddam Hussein, but dictators are not all that thin on the ground in the region.

The belief that this would be a war about oil, and about revenge, runs deep.

Broken promises

People are worried about the impact of war on the already fragile economy.

Turkey has been in a deep recession for more than two years.

Billions of dollars in tourism revenue are thought to be at risk if war comes to Turkey's doorstep.

As for American guarantees of compensation, whatever amount might be promised many Turkish people think they have heard it all before.

Turkish Kurds
Turkey has deep suspicions of Kurdish ambitions
Turkey was told it would receive tens of billions of dollars in compensation for its losses during and after the 1991 Gulf War.

But much of the money never materialised.

Opposition to the war is more than just economic.

Turkey's political and military establishment is deeply concerned about the possibility that the Kurdish groups which currently control northern Iraq might use the war to try and establish an autonomous state.

Turkey has only recently finished a long and bloody struggle against separatist Kurds in the south east of the country.

An autonomous Kurdistan just across the border would cause enormous alarm in Ankara - so much that the government has already made it clear that Turkey would move militarily to stop it being created.

These concerns about war have driven Turkey's negotiations with the US.

It has sought guarantees about northern Iraq's final status, about a Turkish military role during any war, and of course about compensation.

US officials tend to roll their eyes when talking about the compensation that Turkey is looking for.

One recently suggested that Turkey thought it might use US compensation to get itself out of a newly created budget crisis.

But America has been forced to up its offer as Turkey has dug its heels in.

All or nothing

US Secretary of State Colin Powell's demand for a decision is driving the negotiating process to the endgame.

The US has never made the threat explicit but hanging over the negotiations is a scenario where Turkey loses on nearly all fronts.

That is that the US decides not to bother any more trying to bargain with Turkey, but instead abandons the northern front or somehow creates one without Turkish help.

Turkey would then suffer all the economic pain of war with no compensation from the US.

It would have instability on its border without military co-operation from the US in controlling Kurdish groups.

And Iraq would be reshaped after Saddam's fall with no input form Turkey.

Is the Turkish Government prepared to go so far as it chases the best deal possible or seeks to appease its electorate?

Colin Powell has asked for an answer. The clock is ticking.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Johnny Dymond
"By now the deal should have been done and dusted"



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