ISTANBUL — TURKEY continues to endorse the United States position on the Gulf crisis. But Ankara refused to agree to deeper military commitments in talks with US Secretary of State James Baker III on Nov. 7. The question of whether Turkey would allow the US to use its strategic Incirlik Airbase for an attack against Iraq will come up only after the war starts, Defense Minister Husnu Dogan said after Mr. Baker's visit. Baker is touring the Middle East and Europe to seek support for Washington's Gulf policy.
``Turkey's position of not rejecting such an idea outright should satisfy the US,'' Mr. Dogan said. He stressed that Turkey is already deploying a force of 100,000 men along the Turkish-Iraqi border and added, ``Turkey should not be asked to do more.''
In the early days of the Gulf crisis, President Turgut Ozal's prompt decision to side with the US against Iraq boosted Turkey's prestige in the West, at a time when the country's strategic importance had started to erode. The popularity of Mr. Ozal, the chief architect of this policy, soared at home. But now, many Turks are feeling the effects of the embargo and what critics describe as ``the hasty and unbalanced attitude'' taken by Ozal.
In recent weeks the hard economic facts of the embargo - losses in revenue are more than $2 billion and are expected to reach $7 billion if the crisis continues - seem to have affected Ozal's popularity.
Ozal would not hesitate to ``drag Turkey into a war, just for the sake of playing a role in the Middle East and gaining personal prestige,'' said Erdal Inonu, the leader of the Social Democratic Party.
``Turkey should not assume the job of a policeman in the Middle East,'' said Suleyman Demirel, former prime minister and now leader of the center-right True Path Party. He blamed Ozal for getting too involved in a conflict ``with a neighboring country, with which Turkey will have to live together for ever.''
Critics also attack Ozal for ``misusing'' his presidential powers. Under the Turkish Constitution, the president has limited authority on governmental functions and fills a rather ceremonial role. But Ozal insists he has ``enough powers to direct the country.''
This week, amid this controversy over his role in the Gulf crisis, Ozal told parliamentarians of the ruling Motherland Party that he planned to ask for a revision of the Constitution that would empower the president along the lines of the French presidential system.
Ozal still insists, however, that Turkey has been gaining from his Gulf policy. He announced over the weekend, that Turkey was starting to receive a ``large package'' of modern weapons that the Turkish armed forces badly needs, including M-60 tanks, armored carriers, Cobra helicopters, missile destroyers, missiles, and Phantom fighters.
Ozal says this $9 billion package will make Turkey's armed forces ``the most powerful and modern'' in the region.
Some observers here feel that the US wants Turkey to take an active part in an eventual military action against Iraq.
US press reports - including an article by New York Times columnist William Safire - suggesting that Turkey's role should be to open a ``second front'' against Iraq in case of war, have been prominently played up in the Turkish press, with some strong reaction.
Ozal was forced to say ``that all these scenarios are the product of imagination'' and that ``Turkey has not received any proposal to this effect.'' ``Turkey is not planning to open a second front,'' said a senior Cabinet minister.