Ankara, Feb. 11 (Reuters): Turkish Prime Minister Abdullah Gul today denied a report that he had offered safe haven to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein if he stepped down to prevent a US-led war.
“No, no,” Gul responded when reporters asked him about the report in the mass-circulation daily Milliyet, which said he had made the offer to Iraqi vice-president Taha Yassin Ramadan during a secret visit by Ramadan to Ankara earlier this month.
Fikret Bila, a columnist with good government connections, wrote that the offer was part of Turkish efforts to avoid a war it fears could destabilise the region and damage its own fragile economy.
“Step down to prevent a war, for the future of the Iraqi people. If you take this decision Turkey is ready to make you its guest and provide for your security. Such a step would prevent a war,” Bila quoted the Turkish offer to the Iraqi leader as saying. He said Iraq had given no answer. Nato member Turkey is reluctantly gearing up for a war in neighbouring Iraq but has tried to lead efforts to avert conflict, hosting a meeting of regional leaders last month.
It has been cautious in moves towards allowing US access to Turkish bases to prepare for a war. A final parliamentary vote is expected next week.