WASHINGTON — The Kennedy clan had a motto that fits the relationship now being worked out between Turkey and the United States: "Forgive but don't forget."

The mistake of the Turkish generals was to conclude that America would never attack Saddam without Turkey's willingness to provide the bases to launch a northern front.

The mistake of the newly elected Islamic government in Ankara was to believe this notion and think that it could charge the United States a whopping fee for transit of our soldiers.

The mistake of Turkish public opinion was to indulge in the deep-seated paranoia toward the Iraqi Kurds, suspecting that they would set up an independent state that would lead to the breakup of Turkey. That led to a warning that our Iraqi Kurdish allies would be attacked as they returned home to Kirkuk, a threat that was Turkey's most serious blunder.

The United States made a mistake, too, in assuming that the Turks, long a stalwart ally against communism, would again act like an ally in helping us rid the area of a dangerous tyrant. We failed to grasp that the new government was run by political amateurs.

Result: The Turks are left standing there, hands in empty pockets, while the winning coalition is pacifying and rebuilding their large, old-rich neighbor to the south. Postwar anti-Islamic mutterings are being heard in the army, which averages one coup per decade; that would be another mistake.

The other day a delegation of Turkish business leaders and journalists dropped by The Times' Washington bureau en route to a date at the Pentagon.

They practiced their pitch on me: You used to be a great friend of Turkey's, and we run your column in our papers. So what if there were a few regrettable misunderstandings during a political transition — does this have to mean it's all over between us? You know we're too proud to apologize, but it's in the U.S. interest to work with the only secular Muslim democratic state that can be an example to the new Iraq.

Unspoken was their most persuasive argument: We have this big army, Patton tanks and F-5 fighters modernized by Israeli industry, sitting right next to unpoliced Iraq — with nothing to do. Turkey may be late but could still be helpful.

I told these articulate Turks — all good guys — that Israeli friends had been noodging me to get off Turkey's back for months, but I believe that actions must have consequences, and we can't immediately go back to business as usual.

I know not what course the Bush administration may take, but here's my new take on Turkey:

First, opinion-leading Turks should assuage their public's unreasonable fears of Kurdish separatism. Stop inflammatory talk of intervention in northern Iraq. End internal suppression of the Kurdish culture and language.

At the same time, Americans should assure the Turks that we will maintain a military and intelligence presence in Iraqi Kurdistan and will work with the democratic Barzani-Talabani Kurds to jail any PKK terrorists in that autonomous region of federated Iraq. We should quickly set up courts to adjudicate claims of Kurds and the Turkoman minority against lands stolen by Saddam in his ethnic cleansing.

Turkey should then offer a brigade of its army — about 4,000 soldiers — to be embedded in the Polish command in southern Iraq to help establish and keep order. Arabs may not welcome this at first, but Turkish troops have proved to be effective peacekeepers in Bosnia and Afghanistan.

The coalition should graciously accept Ankara's offer, and a portion of Iraq's oil repayment we foolishly promised to Russia for debts incurred by Saddam should be used to subsidize the brigade's cost.

Then we should let economic nature take its course. "A free-enterprise, democratic Iraq would be of enormous economic benefit to Turkey, and vice versa," says an administration stalwart across the river.

Wilsonian hawks want to get across a message that is both diplomatically adept and politically realistic: Forgive but don't forget. Rewards flow first to nations that join our coalitions and march by our side, but we are not so vindictive as to punish anyone for having failed to cooperate if it means punishing ourselves.

New York Times News Service