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Turkey relents on use of airspace

©Associated Press

March 22, 2003

WASHINGTON -- Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan reversed course Friday by telling Secretary of State Colin Powell that U.S. warplanes may fly over Turkey to attack Iraq, a senior U.S. official said.

Powell had chided Turkey for imposing conditions for the overflights, which would make attacks on Iraq easier. In a subsequent telephone conversation, the prime minister attached no conditions, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Meanwhile, Turkey sent 1,000 troops into northern Iraq to beef up its military presence there, and the government said it would send more to prevent Iraqi Kurds from creating an independent state.

Powell said earlier, "We are talking to Turkish authorities to see whether or not there is some planning we should do with respect to any humanitarian needs that might arise along the border."

Most people in northern Iraq, just across the frontier from Turkey, are ethnic Kurds, as are many across the border in Turkey. The Turkish military presence in northern Iraq is meant to prevent breakaway sentiments among Iraqis from spreading into Turkey.

Before Erdogan conveyed his decision to Powell, the secretary told reporters at the State Department that negotiations were under way to work out an agreement on overflights. Powell talked to Erdogan on Thursday and again on Friday.

The Turkish Parliament this week approved flights by allied warplanes over Turkey to and from bombing raids against Iraq.

Despite approval by Parliament, Deputy Prime Minister Abdullatif Sener said before Erdogan talked with Powell: "The fact that the authorization was approved doesn't mean it is automatically put into effect."

The Turkish government delayed opening the country's airspace with the demand that Turkey have prior notification of all flights' targets and that Turkish troops be allowed in northern Iraq.

The Bush administration has not ruled out using Turkish troops as part of an operation in Iraq by the wartime coalition. However, aware of the anxiety of the large Kurdish population in northern Iraq, it has tried to discourage unilateral action by the Turks.

A Turkish military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said negotiations were locked over Turkish demands that the U.S. military provide information on the types of planes, their missions and their destinations ahead of the overflights. Erdogan lifted that condition as well.

Turkey has resisted U.S. overtures on several strategic fronts in the war with Iraq. Most significant was its refusal to let U.S. troops invade northern Iraq from Turkish soil. This has caused U.S. strategists to consider more awkward ways to invade the north.

A multibillion-dollar U.S. aid package for Turkey was withdrawn by the Bush administration. No aid is planned in exchange for use of Turkish airspace.

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