ANKARA, TURKEY, AUG. 10 -- President Turgut Ozal declined today to commit Turkey to a military role in the international movement to isolate Iraq and said U.S. aircraft should not use NATO bases on Turkish territory to attack the neighboring Arab state without prior approval by the alliance and perhaps the United Nations.
Interviewed at his office immediately after meeting with the chief of the armed forces general staff, Gen. Necip Torumtay, Ozal said there is no evidence that Iraq is massing forces along its border with Turkey. "There is no real buildup as far as I understand from the information I've received from military people," Ozal said.
Nevertheless, he confirmed that some of Turkey's 36 Rapier ground-to-air missiles had been moved from the western part of the country to sites around military bases, including Incirlik Air Base in the southeast, where 14 U.S. F-111 bombers are carrying out training exercises.
Ozal also signed a decree ordering 4,000 striking civilian maintenance workers at Incirlik and seven other bases back on the job for reasons of national security.
Ozal said the issue of U.S. access to the bases had not been raised in his meeting with Secretary of State James A. Baker III Thursday. Nor, he said, had the question of Turkish participation in a multinational force against Iraq.
"These bases are for NATO purposes," Ozal said. Their use for activities outside NATO's usual field of operations, in Europe and the Mediterranean, "is another matter. It has to be decided by NATO, and I think, in any case, it may also require a United Nations resolution. It would be better."
Of possible Turkish involvement in a multinational force, Ozal said, "We are just thinking; we have not decided yet. We have to look carefully at it because we have a border with Iraq."
Several major Turkish newspapers commented on the Baker visit by urging the government to avoid becoming involved in a NATO military action against Iraq at all costs and to resist any U.S. pressures to use bases in Turkey for bombing sorties.
Turkey has been at pains to avoid unilateral action that might antagonize Iraq. The president stressed in the interview that his country would adhere to U.N. economic sanctions, but he also noted that a day after the embargo was adopted, Iraqi officials contacted the Turkish ambassador in Baghdad about Ankara's willingness to continue providing Iraq with food.
Turkey is a major supplier of agricultural products to Iraq, and Ozal said he had asked for a specific list of what items the Iraqis wanted. "We would like to see the list. We have to see whether it is inside the embargo or outside."
Turkey's risks in supporting sanctions must not go unrecognized, he insisted. "Most of the difficulty is falling on our shoulders," Ozal said. "We are going to lose a lot of money and also employment. . . . We are not going for short-term benefits because short-term benefits lead to long-term mistakes."
He went on to condemn Europeans for supplying Iraq with technology to manufacture chemical weapons and for selling heavy arms to both Baghdad and Tehran during their eight-year war. He expressed annoyance that at the same time Ankara came under criticism for its human rights record.
Turkey, Ozal said, had been neglected by some Western nations as the relaxation of East-West tensions resulted in diminished concern about a threat to NATO's southern flank. "Everybody should carefully reconsider this situation," he said. "Turkey is an essential country for the stability of this region."
Ozal said in the interview that he ordered the base maintenance employees back to work because "this is a critical phase and an emergency case. Nobody knows what will happen tomorrow or the next day."
According to the government decree published in an official gazette, the week-old maintenance workers' strike was ordered deferred for 60 days after it was deemed "harmful for national security." Airplane parking and refueling at the bases are said to have been affected by the strike.
The union involved in the strike, known as Harb-Is, said its members would comply with the order but planned to fight it in court. The workers went on strike on Aug. 3, seeking a 150 percent wage increase.