After the European Union decided against admitting Turkey as a member anytime soon, Turkish officials could barely hide their bitter disappointment this past weekend. U.S. officials felt the same way. The EU's rebuff was not just a slap at Turkey, but also at the Bush administration, which had lobbied fiercely for an ally that will be critical if American forces go to war against Iraq. The setback complicates Washington's careful diplomatic preparations to line up a strong alliance for a showdown with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Turkey borders Iraq, which is why the U.S. wants to use Turkish air bases and station troops in the country, the only Muslim nation in NATO. So far, Turkish officials have only said maybe because Turks overwhelmingly oppose a war with Iraq. The U.S. had hoped that securing EU membership would clinch the deal. Still, the administration needs to keep up the pressure on the EU to set a firm date for talks with Turkey. Other top priorities include following through on an offer of $5 billion in U.S. aid and seeing that Turkey gets a $35 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund to help its distressed economy. Getting Turkey on board is crucial for more than strategic reasons. The U.S. could put on display an Islamic democracy working with the West, a powerful antidote to Osama bin Laden's propaganda that the two cultures are incompatible. Equally important: Turkey's support would be a welcome sign that the administration is pursuing the intense diplomacy needed to overcome opposition to war with Iraq. Though the new anti-Iraq alliance in the region lacks the outspoken and unwavering support of the coalition assembled for the 1991 Gulf War, the U.S. has quietly secured agreements with key Muslim countries. For example, U.S. forces are carrying out military exercises in Qatar. Kuwait has agreed to serve as a major staging area. Saudi Arabia is expected to allow use of its facilities. Even Iran has hinted at cooperation. Indeed, President Bush personally worked the phones to encourage the EU, which expanded its membership from 15 to 25 last week, to begin immediate talks on admitting Turkey. But Europe's economic and political club ruled out any negotiations before 2005 with what would be the EU's first Muslim member. By sticking with its diplomatic courtship of Turkey, the U.S. doesn't just improve the chances of gaining a vital wartime ally. It can show a post-Saddam Iraq and other Muslim nations a strong democratic model to follow.
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