ANKARA, TURKEY, AUG. 8 -- Turkey, the NATO member whose air bases are closest to Iraq, may allow the United States to use these facilities against Iraq should the alliance decide that such military action is justified, a senior Defense Ministry official said today.
Turkish military sources anticipate that Secretary of State James A. Baker III could raise the question of granting U.S. planes wider access to the bases when he meets with Foreign Minister Ali Bozer, Prime Minister Yildirin Akbulut and President Turgut Ozal on Thursday.
Asked if Turkey is prepared to grant such a request, the senior official referred to key passages in two North Atlantic Treaty Organization resolutions regarding military activities outside Europe and North America, the 16-nation alliance's regular geographic scope.
Ankara refused to allow the United States to use its air bases during the 1980 hostage crisis in neighboring Iran and again after the attack on U.S. Marines in Beirut in 1983. "This situation is different," the ministry official said, speaking on the condition that he not be identified. "A sovereign independent country has been invaded."
President Bush hailed President Ozal as "a staunch friend of the United States" in his televised address today, but Turkey has been torn over how to respond to the annexation of Kuwait by Iraq, with which Turkey shares 200 miles of border.
"We are caught in a dilemma here," a Defense Ministry official said. "If you want peace, be prepared for war; this is our policy. But of course it is of utmost importance to keep in mind that we are neighbors, and we will remain neighbors."
The Turkish cabinet met for more than four hours today, after which the state crisis management group -- made up of the prime minister, president, the ministers of defense and foreign affairs as well as the chief of the general staff -- held an emergency session.
A special task force of trade and transport officials also worked to coordinate Turkey's implementation of United Nations' sanctions against Iraq, which the government agreed to support on Tuesday.
Baker is scheduled to fly from Ankara to Brussels for a NATO ministers' meeting on Friday at which the alliance will discuss a joint stance toward Iraq.
Five thousand U.S. troops are stationed in Turkey under prior NATO accords, and Turkish and U.S. officials said no reinforcements are being sent here.
The mass circulation newspaper Hurriyet reported that Turkey has moved some of its F-16 fighter planes to Incirlik Air Base, about 425 miles from the Iraqi frontier, and placed other military aircraft on alert. But Necip Torumtay, chief of the general staff, denied that any Turkish planes had been moved to the border region, and defense sources said there already are enough forces in the area to deter Iraq.
Nevertheless, an official said it was possible that Turkey could station some of its 36 ground-to-air Rapier missiles along the frontier.
Fourteen U.S. F-111 bombers had been transferred from Britain to Incirlik, which is jointly administered by Turkey and the United States. The U.S. Embassy and Turkish officials said these are involved in long-planned NATO training exercises unrelated to the Persian Gulf crisis. A half-dozen other Turkish bases could be used by U.S. or additional NATO forces to deal with Iraq if need be, defense sources said.
There was no sign of any Iraqi buildup near Turkish territory, officials here said.