The last time the United States went to war against Iraq, Sadan Argun lost his house and his car. The tourists who used to buy his miniature boxes and hand-painted candles stopped coming to Turkey -- next door to the Persian Gulf War -- and the resulting economic crash was as abrupt as it was steep.
"What we went through was real," said Argun, at the end of another day standing behind a lonely tabletop of the trinkets he once paid 40 people to make by the gross. "Everybody would consider the Gulf War a significant starting point for the downturn."
Now, a decade later, the United States is asking Turkey to play a pivotal role in a fresh military enterprise, and quiet bargaining over the price of cooperation is under way. In exchange for use of its territory by U.S. troops and aircraft against Iraq, the Turkish government is asking for significant economic help to make sure there is no repeat of the recession that followed the 1991 war. Just as eagerly, it wants the Bush administration to persuade the European Union to respond more favorably to a long-delayed Turkish bid for membership.
The United States strongly backs the bid, as President Bush emphasized repeatedly in Washington today while receiving Recep Tayyip Erdogan, leader of Turkey's new governing party. Membership in the prosperous club of European nations, U.S. officials say, would not only boost Turkey's economy; it would enhance Turkey's status as a model of secular democracy in a Muslim country.
More immediately, analysts and diplomats add, signs of progress on EU membership would improve American chances of winning permission to mass ground troops in Turkey in addition to basing warplanes here, a necessity for opening a northern front in any new war against President Saddam Hussein's government in Baghdad.
But despite the endorsement in Washington, Europe's willingness to embrace the Turkish application anytime soon remains in doubt. European foreign ministers today endorsed a French-German proposal that Turkey begin negotiations with the EU in 2005 -- if it meets human rights conditions by 2004 that so far it has failed to meet.
Erdogan dismissed that timetable as a double standard on Monday and demanded a firm date. If, as expected, European leaders follow their foreign ministers' suggestion, Turkish disappointment could affect the level of cooperation with U.S. war plans, analysts here say.
"If Europe says no, you're going to see a backlash the likes of which you've never seen in Turkey before, and it's going to make the job of persuading Turkey on Iraq incredibly harder," said Bulent Aliriza, director of the Turkey Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, where Erdogan delivered a speech Monday night.
"I can't emphasize this enough," Aliriza said. "Because to the Turks, it's not the United States as opposed to Europe. It's 'the West.' "
Turks have been weaned on the vision of the nation's founder, Kemal Ataturk, to look toward the West for progress and prosperity. But they complain of feeling poorly used by the forces they have longed to embrace. Almost 40 years after applying for membership in what was then the European Community, Turkey is at the end of its patience, Erdogan warned.
The United States, which championed Turkey's bid to join NATO decades ago, fares poorly in opinion polls here. In a recent survey of 44 countries by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, the percentage of Turks expressing a "favorable" view of the United States dropped more than in any other country with a benchmark for comparison -- skidding from 52 to 30 percent in just two years.
In a country where schoolchildren are taught they are Turks before anything else, more and more people say events are reminding them they are also Muslims.
"Although Turkey is a secular country, it's also a fact that the world is getting divided into two camps, and Turkey is 98 percent Muslim," said Ahmet Ugur, 53, a resort hotelier with a degree in political science. "And no matter how much Turkey wants to remain a secular country, the U.S. and the EU are pushing Turkey back into the other camp."
Such skepticism reduces the maneuvering room of the new government, which U.S. officials say has privately offered to cooperate against Iraq. Born from the ruins of earlier, openly Islamic parties, the ruling Justice and Development Party appears eager to reassure the United States that it has left behind religious politics and will be a reliable strategic partner.
Major strategic decisions will fall to Turkey's National Security Council, a mix of elected officials and top generals who have worked with the Pentagon in assembling war plans. But Turkey's constitution requires parliamentary approval of such moves as hosting foreign troops or dispatching Turkish forces abroad, both of which the Bush administration has privately requested, and politicians say they must answer to voters.
"We should get the okay of the people if there is war," said Omer Celik, an adviser to Erdogan.
Turkish officials said that, given the recession and memories of the Gulf War, money will be a key lubricant. The recession, triggered by last year's banking and currency crisis, is the worst since World War II. The Turkish lira lost two-thirds of its value and is now trading at 1.5 million to the dollar. The unofficial unemployment rate is 30 percent, and last year the economy shrank nearly 10 percent.
The two countries are deep into negotiating an aid package that would include steady reduction of $5 billion in military debt to the United States, assurances on an existing $16 billion recovery loan from the International Monetary Fund and limited trade preferences to boost Turkish exports.
But help with the EU would go the farthest, say diplomats and analysts. With Turkey yet to adopt the required human rights and political reforms, observers say the best hope for getting a firm date for beginning EU accession talks lies in a breakthrough to unite Cyprus, an island divided into Greek and Turkish areas since 1974.
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan released a revised proposal today that would allow Cyprus to join the EU as a united republic with two "component states." News services reported that the most reluctant party to the talks, Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash, dismissed the revisions. But he headed to Ankara for meetings as Erdogan flew to see Annan in New York.