US finds little Gulf war fervour left in Turkey

Perry: Snubbed by the pro-Islamic Prime Minister
There were gifts and fine words for William Perry, US Defense Secretary, here yesterday but a snub from Necmettin Erbakan, the new pro-Islamic Prime Minister, showed how confused the Middle East policy of Turkey, a Nato member, has become.

Ankara was juggling several balls as Mr Perry breakfasted with Tansu Ciller, the Foreign Minister, chatted with President Suleyman Demirel and accepted a presentation plate from the chief of general staff.

If a substantive proposal of action against Iraq was canvassed during Mr Perry's meetings in Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Britain, it did not leak out in Ankara. Diplomats privately doubted there was one.

Officials said he did not even raise the possibility of using Incirlik airbase, southern Turkey, for a strike on Iraq. Like Saudi Arabia and Jordan, Turkey had made clear it would not offer its use during the first round of US cruise-missile attacks.

There has been a big change in Turkey's political climate since the enthusiastic support for US policy under the late president Turgut Ozal during the Gulf war. Asked for a morning meeting yesterday by the hard- pressed Mr Perry, Mr Erbakan replied that he could not return from his weekend holiday home until the afternoon. He has remained silent on the crisis that has followed Baghdad's intervention on the side of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in northern Iraq.

One reason is that Mr Erbalam has been consistently pro-Iraqi. Since coming to power in July, he has preferred to duck any issue that might bring him into conflict with the pro-US armed forces. Another reason for his reticence may be that he is embarrassed by setbacks to his vision of friendship with Turkey's Muslim neighbours. None of his overtures to Iraq, Iran, Libya or Syria has had the effect he hoped for.

Relations with Baghdad have improved but the Iraqis rejected proposals for a security zone in north Iraq to deter Turkish Kurd rebels of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). Even Libya rebuffed Mr Erbakan, angered by Turkish dealings with Israel. His worst miscalculation was over Iran, the first country he visited as prime minister. At the weekend, PKK attacks launched from Iran left 13 Turkish soldiers dead.

Like other countries, Turkey has been confused by unpredictable events. It is frustrated the UN-monitored oil-for-food deal has not gone through, since it wants a restoration of pipeline transit revenues and a renewal of commerce with what was its second most important trading partner.

But it has not all been bad. An ex-envoy, Sukru Elekdag, said some aspects of the realignment in north Iraq suited Turkey, as it means restoration of the territorial unity of Iraq and an end to any dreams of an independent Kurdish state.