03/21 - Turkey agrees to U.S. overflights for Iraq war - East Valley Tribune: Nation / World

03/21 - Turkey agrees to U.S. overflights for Iraq war

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Posted: Friday, March 21, 2003 10:23 am | Updated: 1:10 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

ANKARA, Turkey - Turkey has agreed to allow U.S. warplanes to fly over its territory for a war with Iraq, a Turkish military official said.

Two air corridors will be opened for the U.S. aircraft, the official said, speaking on customary condition of anonymity.

The U.S. flights will begin immediately, private CNN-Turk television reported.

Turkey earlier delayed opening its airspace to U.S. warplanes despite parliamentary approval for the overflights, insisting the United States agree to its demands to move Turkish troops into northern Iraq.

It was not immediately clear how the issue was resolved.

Turkey's parliament voted Thursday to let the United States use the airspace, a measure that would allow strike aircraft on carriers in the Mediterranean to fly more directly into Iraq. The United States could also use Turkish airspace to ferry troops into northern Iraq.

After parliament's approval, the United States still needed the Turkish government's go-ahead.

The resolution passed by parliament also would allow Turkey to move its own forces into northern Iraq.

The United States opposes any unilateral move by Turkey into northern Iraq. Washington has warned that a Turkish incursion could lead to friendly fire incidents with U.S. forces. Iraqi Kurdish groups say the move could lead to clashes.

Negotiations also had been locked over Turkish demands that the U.S. military provide information on the type of planes, their mission, and their destination ahead of the overflights, a Turkish military official said n condition of anonymity. The United States wanted to be able to use the airspace without prior notification.

The Turkish military official said Turkey was concerned that if it opened its airspace, the United States would begin flying troops across Turkey into the Kurdish-controlled areas of northern Iraq.

Turkey fears instability in that border region and is looking to move its own troops into the area.

The United States also wanted to use refueling aircraft based at Incirlik air base in southern Turkey, but Turkey had balked at their use, saying it would not be part of the airspace agreement.

U.S. warplanes based in Incirlik have been used to patrol a no-fly zone over northern Iraq and the refuelers were used as part of that mission.

U.S. Ambassador Robert Pearson held extensive talks with top foreign ministry officials Thursday and Friday.

Thursday's vote granting overflight rights followed intense lobbying by the United States, but fell far short of Washington's original request to send 62,000 soldiers to Turkey to open up a northern front against Iraq that would divide the Iraqi army.

Polls show up to 94 percent of Turks are against a war against Iraq, opposition that contributed to months of delays by Turkey's government.

U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher welcomed the vote granting airspace rights, but said the United States remained ''opposed to unilateral action by Turkey or by any party in northern Iraq.''

Parliament earlier this month failed to pass a resolution that would have let in U.S. ground troops for an Iraq invasion.

The United States had offered Turkey a package of $15 billion in loans and grants if it lets in U.S. troops for a ground war. But the United States withdrew the aid package as war drew closer and it became clear that even if Turkey voted in favor, the U.S. military would not have time to bring in the units.

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