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Turkey Grows in Prestige, But No Dramatic Postwar Gains Seen

March 9, 1991

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) _ It was a scene to warm any leader’s heart, much less a descendant of the Ottoman Empire: President Turgut Ozal, visiting a western town recently, was greeted with a sign: ″Ozal, Conquerer of the Gulf.″

Ozal defied Turkish public opinion by allowing U.S. planes to use Turkish bases during the Persian Gulf War. Now, he is basking in the praise of the Western nations and, finally, some of his own people.

But as the postwar era begins, Turkey is realizing it may not achieve its dreams of a leading regional role and other big rewards for its Persian Gulf policy, observers say.

″There are political gains, prestige gains,″ said Seyfi Tashan, director of the independent Foreign Policy Institute. ″How these can be transformed into material gains, I have my doubts.″

The U.N. embargo against Iraq and occupied Kuwait could not have succeeded without Turkey, a key outlet for Iraqi oil and exports. In addition, the use of Turkish bases enabled U.S. warplanes to raid airstrips and other targets in nearby northern Iraq, diplomats say.

Turkey has thus emerged from the war with high marks in Washington. It has also improved its standing as a member of NATO, the Western military alliance.

But officials and diplomats say there is little sign that Turkey will soon see a much-hoped-for regional economic fund, particularly while Iraqi President Saddam Hussein remains in power.

In addition, Turkey’s hopes of joining the European Community remain dim. Despite its support for the allied cause, a longstanding Greek veto on Monday blocked Turkey from receiving an $800 million EC aid package.

Greece and Turkey have long disputed oil rights in the Aegean Sea and the political status of Cyprus, the divided island nation inhabited by ethnic Greeks and Turks.

And there is no sign Turkey will play a key role in any new Mideast defense pact.

″There is a high possibility for Turkey to be marginalized again in the postwar settlement,″ said a Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Turkey’s military role in the region remains problematic. As a democratic, officially secular Muslim country, Turkey may appear to the West as an ideal member of a future regional defense group.

But Turks are skeptical such an organization will succeed in the fractious Middle East. For their part, many Arabs are still suspicious of Turkey, once the hub of the vast Ottoman empire.

Turkey’s new role may be limited largely to granting the United States or NATO increased use of its bases, particularly for storage of equipment in case of another war, officials say.

″The policeman’s role for Turkey may be elevated,″ a senior Turkish official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. ″That’s not a bad thing. ... Obviously, that is going to be some deterrent for Arabs who might think ill of Turkey.″

Although his more grandiose ideas may not be fulfilled, Ozal has continued to assure Turks the government was right to abandon its traditional neutrality in Arab affairs.

″For the first time in 200 years, Turkey has allied itself with the winners of a war,″ he exclaimed to a crowd last week. ″Siding with the winners is always advantageous.″

In fact, Ozal can point to some concrete gains:

-A $1 billion military package from Germany, and a proposed 25 percent increase in U.S. military aid to $625 million in 1992.

-A 50-percent increase in the U.S. import quota for Turkey’s important textile industry.

-At least $3.5 billion in special aid commitments from the West, Japan and the Middle East.

In addition, Turkish construction and export firms are expected to help in the rebuilding of Kuwait.

Still, the economic embargo against Iraq will cost Turkey at least $7 billion over a year in lost trade, according to the World Bank. Tens of thousands of Turks have been laid off due to the loss of trade and tourism.

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