Turkish President Turgut Ozal said Wednesday that he would commit his nation's army--by far the most potent force on Iraq's border--to an armed struggle against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's regime if the action is sanctioned by the United Nations.
Talking to a small group of reporters, Ozal said Turkey and the rest of the world would be better off if Hussein is not allowed to survive the current Persian Gulf crisis with his army intact.
Nevertheless, Ozal made it clear that he is not yet ready to consider military action against Iraq. He declined to say whether Turkey would join a U.S.-led attack without U.N. endorsement, while leaving no doubt about Turkish participation if authorized by the U.N. Security Council.
"If the U.N. decides on armed intervention, we'll not be against it," Ozal said.
Ozal's comments, coming a day after Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze hinted broadly that Moscow would back U.N.-sanctioned military action, give the Bush Administration a strong incentive to seek U.N. approval for any such move--even if the organization's often-cumbersome procedures caused the crisis to drag on longer than Washington would like.
Ozal said Turkey already has moved some troops closer to his nation's border with Iraq and has made other military preparations "for defensive purposes." A Turkish official added that the Turkish Parliament has given the government standby authority to join a U.N. force against Iraq.
Ozal, who has dealt personally with Hussein and whose country enjoyed friendly relations with Iraq before the invasion of Kuwait, expressed serious doubts that the Iraqi leader would back down, even in the face of unrelenting economic pressure. Nevertheless, he called on the West to give the trade embargo ample time to work before considering the use of force.
"Time is not against the United States or the Western world," Ozal said. "The only thing against the Western world is oil prices, and those can be dealt with."
Turkey shares a long border with Iraq, and Turkish participation would force Hussein into fighting a militarily difficult two-front war. Without Turkish participation, U.S. military action against Iraq would be far harder.
Meanwhile, a senior U.S. official said that the United Nations is dusting off military procedures that have not been used since the Korean War. Some of the provisions of the U.N. Charter authorizing the collective use of force have never been used.
Ozal said the Persian Gulf crisis has cost Turkey between $2 billion and $2.5 billion in lost trade with Iraq and Kuwait and lost revenue from the now-closed pipeline that carried Iraqi oil to a port on the Mediterranean. He said oil price increases have taken another $2.5 billion out of the Turkish economy.
Although Turkey stands to receive several billion dollars from a U.S.-brokered fund to cushion the impact of the crisis on "front-line states," Ozal said his country should not be bracketed with Jordan and Egypt, the two other countries most frequently cited as economic victims of the crisis. He said the Turkish economy was far more robust than that of Egypt and Jordan before the Iraqi invasion.
In fact, Ozal said, the crisis might be a blessing in disguise for Turkey, which lost its importance as the anchor of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's southern flank with the easing of East-West tensions and the collapse of the Warsaw Pact.
"Maybe this (gulf) incident will show that Turkish importance has not been lost," he said. "The strategic importance of Turkey is not finished."