Turkish political leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday began laying groundwork for the deployment of U.S. troops in his country _ taking public stances aimed at softening popular opposition to war while maneuvering behind the scenes to drum up political support.
The troops would be positioned to invade Iraq from the north, which the United States argues would shorten a war and reduce casualties.
Erdogan, who is poised to become Turkey's prime minister this week, has told aides and key legislators privately that he plans to ask parliament to vote a second time on whether to allow 62,000 U.S. combat troops on Turkish soil. Parliament rejected the measure March 1.
Snubbing the Bush administration, Erdogan told legislators, could be disastrous for Turkey, which stands to lose influence in a postwar Iraq and billions in U.S. economic aid. It is unclear when a second vote would take place.
Erdogan has adopted a different public stance in what appears to be an effort to soften public opposition to the deployment. After he won a parliamentary seat Sunday, he refused on Turkish television to say whether he would push for an approval.
Instead, he blamed the United States for pressuring his party into a vote on the U.S. deployment before he had enough support. Parliament rejected the measure by three votes.
In the interview he said the United States had to provide stronger guarantees that Turkey's interests will be protected in a postwar Iraq. Only then, he appeared to suggest, would he seek another vote.
"Privately, when he speaks to us, he's in favor of a Turkish intervention into Iraq with the United States," said Nevzat Yalcintas, a senior legislator of the ruling Justice and Development Party. "Publicly he says "we can't decide quickly' because there is opposition. He has to show he's not in complete favor."
Erdogan will form a new cabinet this week that will likely exclude cabinet ministers opposed to a U.S. deployment. Turkey's powerful military is fully behind him on the deployment issue.
The public, however, overwhelmingly opposes war. Erdogan will also have to put the vote to the same parliament that rejected the deployment. The body's speaker, Bulent Arinc, is opposed to hosting U.S. troops and could sway votes.