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Turkish Prime Minister Rejects US Criticism

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Turkish prime minister rejects U.S. criticism

The Associated Press

ISTANBUL, Turkey (May 7, 2003 6:05 p.m. EDT) - Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday rejected U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz's call that Turkey concede it made a mistake by not opening its doors to the U.S. military during the Iraq war.

"Turkey, from the very beginning, never made any mistakes, and has taken all the necessary steps in all sincerity," Erdogan told reporters.

In an interview broadcast Tuesday on CNN-Turk, Wolfowitz criticized Ankara for its refusal to allow the United States to base troops in Turkey or use its military bases during the war. That refusal, which came amid strong Turkish public opposition to the war, has increased tension between the two NATO allies.

Wolfowitz said he wanted Turkey to change its attitude.

"Let's have a Turkey that steps up and says, 'We made a mistake, we should have known how bad things were in Iraq, but we know now. Let's figure out how we can be as helpful as possible to the Americans,'" Wolfowitz said. "I'd like to see a different sort of attitude than I have yet detected."

Deputy Chief of Military Staff Gen. Yasar Buyukanit rejected Wolfowitz's assertions.

"The Turkish Armed Forces always carries out its duties in a democratic way. It has done so until now and will continue to do so," he told reporters. "It would not be normal in a democratic country for the armed forces to intervene after a motion goes to parliament and is rejected there."

Turks feared the war would derail Turkey's frail economic recovery and destabilize the region.

Turkey allowed the United States to use its airspace after the war had begun.

Wolfowitz also called for the predominantly Muslim nation to follow Washington's line in its relations with neighboring Iran and Syria.

Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul recently visited Syria, and Iran's First Vice President Mohammad Reza Aref paid a visit to Turkey, stoking concerns that Turkey's government, formed by a party with roots in political Islam, is moving away from its U.S. ties.

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