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Sensitive Turkey to host Iraq meeting

U.S. Air Force crews at the Turkish air base of Incirlik in southern Turkey in this September 13, 2002 file photo.
U.S. Air Force crews at the Turkish air base of Incirlik in southern Turkey in this September 13, 2002 file photo.

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ANKARA, Turkey (CNN) -- Turkey has said it will invite ministers from five countries -- Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Syria -- to attend a meeting to discuss ways to peacefully resolve the Iraqi crisis.

The government said on Thursday proposed agenda for the meeting was being circulated and indicated that if there is agreement, the meeting will take place sometime in the coming weeks.

Turkey's role in the Iraqi conflict is very sensitive diplomatically. The country borders Iraq in the area where a restive Kurdish population resides in both countries.

Turkey's Islamist government does not want a war against Iraq in part because it fears the conflict could spill across borders, arouse tensions with Kurds in both Turkey and Iraq, and create serious economic and social problems.

On the other hand, Turkey -- the only Muslim NATO member and a close ally of the United States -- is trying to work with the Bush administration.

Prime Minister Abdullah Gul is preparing another tour of Middle Eastern states next week, the Anatolian news agency said. Reuters said aides to Gul could not confirm such a trip was planned, and it was not immediately clear which states Gul may visit.

Earlier this month, Gul visited several capitals in the Middle East in an effort to build consensus for a peaceful end to the stand-off between Washington and Baghdad.

The summit "shows this is a multilateral crisis. ... This is an attempt to show the countries' commitment to a peaceful solution," Ahmet Davutoglu, a professor at Beykent University and foreign policy adviser to the prime minister, told Reuters.

Davutoglu said Ankara was continuing close consultations with the United States, as well as European leaders, on its undertaking to prevent war.

"None of these steps are conflicting, they are complementary to achieving one specific goal to force the Iraqi leadership to comply with the U.N. resolutions and avoid chaos in our region."

NATO partner Turkey's recession-hit economy is dependent on billions of dollars in International Monetary Fund loans.

Analysts say Washington could well use its influence with the IMF to win Ankara extra cash if war breaks out.

Turkey is allowing U.S. military experts this week to inspect its air bases and sea ports for possible use as staging points in the event the United States attacks Iraq.

If Turkey allows U.S. troops on its soil, it could cut the duration of any war against Iraq and lessen the number of potential U.S. casualties, analysts say.

Though the focus of any military action might be from the south of Iraq, a "second front" opened from Turkish frontiers in the north could greatly ease U.S. operations.

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