It's no coincidence that Turkish leader Turgut Ozal's recent itinerary of foreign travels includes only Islamic nations. Rather, it reflects a shift in orientation of Turkey's foreign policy.
Over the objections of the United States and Britain, Prime Minister Ozal is visiting Libya this week. In past weeks, he has traveled to Iran and Pakistan. Next week, he is scheduled to visit Iraq, and later next month, Algeria.
''So far Turkey (has) followed a Western-oriented policy towards the East (Islamic world), while now it is starting to follow an Eastern-oriented policy towards the West,'' says a noted Turkish political analyst, Prof. Fahir Armaoglu.
Practically, this means that Turkey wants to maintain its NATO commitments while developing ties with the Islamic world. Turkey wants to take a more independent stand on matters concerning the Middle East or conflicts between Western and Muslim nations.
Western observers here also acknowledge Ankara's changing foreign policy.
''It is significant that all of the countries that Mr. Ozal visits are members of the Islamic world, and two of them, Iran and Libya, are unfriendly to the West,'' noted a Western analyst. ''These are the two countries which the West wants to isolate, and both now enjoy the support of Turkey.''
Before Ozal left for Tripoli, Washington issued an appeal to all NATO countries to freeze contacts with the Libyans. The request was made after the Libyan embassy shooting in London last month, in an effort to isolate Libya's leader, Col. Muammar Qaddafi.
But, citing ''national interests,'' Ozal went anyway. The Turks explained that Libya was important in Turkey's external relations, particularly in the economic field, and that Ankara could not give up the gains of these ties.
Mr. Ozal told reporters during his flight to Tripoli that he did not understand why some Western countries felt uneasy about the visit.
''This is something that concerns us and is not aimed against anybody else'' he said. ''On the contrary, the development of our relations (with Libya) is in their (Western) interest. We could even help them better this way.''
It is primarily economic interests that push Turkey to strengthen its ties with Muslim countries, which offer vast new markets for Turkish exports. Iran, Libya, and Iraq are Turkey's major suppliers of oil, and all use a considerable amount of Turkish labor as well as the services of Turkish contractors.
Ozal's interest on trade is understandable: Before becoming prime minister last December, he traveled often to Islamic nations as deputy-premier in charge of economic affairs. However, Ozal is also known as a conservative, who gives much importance to moral values and solidarity with Islamic nations.
He seems to cherish the idea of Turkey playing a larger role - or perhaps a leading role - within the Islamic world. He believes that Turkey - a secular but predominantly Muslim country, a member of NATO but geographically part of the Middle East - is in the best position to become a ''bridge'' between East and West.
In actuality, the Turks do not seem prepared to assume new commitments on behalf of the West that could damage their growing ties with these countries in this part of the world.
The Turkish government is following with deep concern the latest escalation in the Gulf war. Recent references by Western leaders about a possible Turkish contribution in favor of Western powers have been received coolly here.
''Our initiatives in the Gulf cannot go beyond the diplmomatic limits,'' a government spokesman said.
Turkey has been, in fact, trying to ease the tension in the Gulf, by using its influence on the warring nations. Ozal is likely to raise the issue when he visits Baghdad next week. But, in the end, the Turks are trying to make clear to the West that they are not prepared to accept any new commitment outside NATO, such as granting base facilities to the US rapid deployment force (now called US Central Command).