ANKARA, Turkey — This country, a front-line American ally that has already paid a stiff price for its hard line against Baghdad, greets Secretary of State James A. Baker III today, fearful of war but officially unflinching in its support for the United States.
What is less clear is whether Turkey would be drawn into ground fighting on a second, northern front.
For the record, both Turkish President Turgut Ozal and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein rule out a second front. But nearly a quarter of a million Turkish and Iraqi troops are faced off across a common 206-mile border.
The autocratic Turkish president, who has emerged in crisis as a steadfast George Bush loyalist, says he sees four chances out of five that war will come on the southern front where American and allied forces face the Iraqi army occupying Kuwait.
A pivot for Ozal-Baker talks here today is whether Turkey will allow 14 American F-111 bombers based at Incirlik near the southern city of Adana to strike at Iraq. That prospect is helping fuel an exodus from the Turkish southeast, where residents fear Iraq might retaliate with chemical weapons.
Baker unexpectedly spent Saturday night at Incirlik, a joint Turkish-American base, after his Air Force jet was forced to abort a landing attempt here by heavy fog. After two failed attempts to reach Ankara last week, Baker will try again this morning, American officials here said.
The F-111 bombers at Incirlik, normally based at Upper Heyford, England, are supported there by a wing of 24 F-16 fighters from Torrejon Air Base outside Madrid. The dependents of American service personnel at the base were evacuated last week.
Turkey, a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, has pledged unlimited logistics, intelligence and medical support in the event of war and is pinning down 100,000 Iraqi troops on the border with a continuing buildup of its own forces that observers say may reach 120,000 men.
In the cold, fogbound Turkish southeast this weekend, reporter Hugh Pope saw crack Turkish paratrooper units in position and long military convoys streaming toward the border along the historic Silk Road that once was a principal caravan route between East and West. The Iraqis are mostly second- and third-line units, diplomatic sources say. Facing them are Turkey's best troops.
Before the U.N.-mandated embargo against Iraq, about 5,000 trucks a day carried commerce between the two countries. In the flux this weekend, military trucks and tanks moving toward Iraq dominated the Silk Road. Their civilian counterparts heading away from the border were families with their worldly goods piled on trucks and behind tractors, Pope reported.
If the Turkish buildup keeps Hussein guessing, NATO also has a message for him. In response to a Turkish request for help, Germany, Italy and Belgium have sent 42 warplanes and over 500 men to Turkish bases. Sidewinder and Patriot missiles are on their way to Turkey from Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands. The bottom line is meant to be unmistakable to Hussein: An attack on Turkey is an attack on NATO.
Ozal, 64, who is built like a cannonball and has the same forthright demeanor, has written, produced and directed Turkish policy since the outset of the Persian Gulf crisis last August, when he quickly shut pipelines carrying Iraqi oil to market through Turkish ports.
Ozal's stand has won a friend in the White House, but it places him at odds with many of his countrymen in a Muslim nation of 55 million traditionally neutral in disputes between Arabs.
The prospect of war, even if only in the neighborhood, alarms Turks. The economy is slowing, a foreign currency black market has revived, and housewives around the country are laying in extra supplies of staples. "No Need For Panic," said one national newspaper in a banner headline Saturday.
Polls show that only a small minority of Turks support Iraq, but large numbers, including political parties to Ozal's left and right, reject what they consider to be Turkish subservience to American interests. A big peace rally is planned for Istanbul today.
"It may be decided in Ankara to go to war Sunday. In Istanbul, we will announce that Turkey will not go to war," said Social Democratic leader Erdal Inonu, who will address the rally.
For Ozal, support for the international mainstream against Iraq, is a logical extension of an international outreach with which he aims to make fast-developing Turkey an eventual member of the European Community as well as a major trading partner with both its Arab and Soviet neighbors.