Senior members of Turkey's ruling party said today their government would probably try again to get parliament to approve a U.S. request to base troops here for a war against Iraq. The leaders said the body could take up the matter later this week or next week, and urged Washington in the meantime to strengthen its offer of economic and political support.
With the nation's financial markets plummeting and pressure from the United States growing in response to parliament's rejection Saturday of the proposed U.S. deployment, the Turkish government's official position today was that it had not decided whether to seek a second vote.
But several senior members of the governing party said Turkey's leaders were willing to take the political risk if the Bush administration was willing to wait and to do more to help.
The measure failed Saturday by three votes, as more than a quarter of the ruling party's deputies defected to oppose a measure that is highly unpopular among the Turkish public. The defeat was a serious complication for U.S. plans to open a northern front against Iraq, as well as for the fledgling government of Turkey's Justice and Development Party and its leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
"The Americans have to help Tayyip Erdogan justify a second resolution," said Cuneyd Zapsu, one of Erdogan's deputies and a founding member of the party. "It could be anything, but they need to give him something to take to parliament.
"We would like to do it, and we're going to try to do it," he said. "But if we lose, it's clear it would be the end of our party. So we need to be very sure we can be successful."
Party officials said Erdogan was not seeking an increase in the U.S. aid package, which provides for $6 billion in grants that could be leveraged into $24 billion in loans. Instead, they said, Washington could make it easier for Erdogan to win approval by making stronger assurances about providing the money, easing restrictions on how the money could be used or providing clearer guarantees about the future of northern Iraq.
Turkey fears an independent Kurdish state could emerge there, which might reignite an armed separatist movement among Turkey's Kurdish population. Officials also want a clearer U.S. commitment to the rights of Iraq's ethnic Turkmen population after a war.
"It would definitely help if the Americans addressed our concerns in a clear way," said Ibrahim Ozal, a member of parliament who sits on the Justice and Development Party's executive board.
Turkish officials blame Saturday's defeat in part on tough U.S. bargaining. "We told them the vote would be difficult, but the American negotiators thought this was about a bazaar mentality," Zapsu said. "I think they understand now, after the vote, that it's about a political reality."
The Pentagon has been waiting weeks for permission to begin moving its forces toward Turkey's 218-mile border with Iraq. The Bush administration is considering giving up on Turkey and ordering dozens of U.S. ships waiting to unload tanks and equipment to Kuwait instead.
Ozal and other senior party members urged patience, arguing that the Turkish government could seek another vote in parliament well before U.S. ships now in Turkish waters could reach Kuwait. "Would 10 days make that much of a difference, considering the costs and casualties that might result from a longer war without Turkey's help?" Ozal said.
Special elections scheduled for Sunday could also help the measure. Erdogan is seeking a vacant parliament seat in that vote, and if he wins, political analysts predict that Prime Minister Abdullah Gul, an ally of Erdogan's, will step aside and let him form a new government. Erdogan was banned from running in the November elections that put his party in power because of a 1998 conviction for reciting a poem with Islamic overtones at a rally. Parliament has since lifted that ban.
If Erdogan becomes prime minister, he could purge the cabinet of several ministers who have opposed the U.S. deployment, an important step because the cabinet's unanimous approval is required to submit a proposal to parliament. A delay in a second vote would also give Washington more time to build U.N. support for a war, something wanted by many Turkish lawmakers who voted against accepting U.S. troops.
"The government is not going to let this go down," said Nevzat Yacintas, a Justice and Development Party legislator. "They will do something, I am sure, because the friendship of the United States is very important to us."
Ozal said many of his colleagues who voted against the U.S. deployment are already having second thoughts and have told him they will change their votes. "They are starting to see it's going to hurt people economically," he said. "They feel a little bit guilty."
The Turkish stock market plunged 12.5 percent and the Turkish lira fell 5 percent today on fears the country would lose the billions pledged by Washington.