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New U.S.-Turkey agreement focuses on overflight rights

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

ANKARA Turkey and the United States have drafted yet another military cooperation agreement against Iraq.

Turkish officials said the draft proposal abandons the prospect of bringing up to 62,000 U.S. troops into Turkey to open a northern front against Iraq. Instead, the new plans envisions U.S. use of Turkish air space as well as the use of Turkey for U.S. military logistics efforts, Middle East Newsline reported.

"What the United States is requesting at this stage is air space rights," Turkish Cabinet spokesman Cemil Cicek said. "If further requests emerge in the future we will evaluate them. But at this moment the request from the United States is for permission for overflights through Turkish air space."

Under the plan, the United States would fly special forces and other troops through Turkish air space and directly to three airports refurbished in northern Iraq. At the same time, the United States would bring supplies, munitions and land force platforms overland through Turkey to northern Iraq. On Tuesday, Turkey and the United States discussed military operations in northern Iraq. Zalmay Khalilzad, special envoy of President George Bush, said the two countries agreed to establish a commission to help avoid any conflict in northern Iraq.

"It has been agreed in principle during negotiations that Turkish soldiers will be allowed to be stationed in northern Iraq," Cicek said. About 20,000 Turkish troops are reported to be in northern Iraq in a zone that extends 40 kilometers south of the Turkish border. The United States has demanded that Turkey coordinates all military operations with U.S. Central Command.

Under the new agreement being discussed, Turkey would also allow thousands of U.S. military vehicles to move through the country toward Iraq. The vehicles as well as other supplies would be accompanied by U.S. military support personnel. Currently, an Italian ship with 765 U.S. military vehicles has docked at the Mediterranean port of Iskenderun.

U.S. platforms and supplies have been brought from the Mediterranean ports of Iskenderun and Merdin to at least three Turkish bases near the Iraqi border. The United States has also amassed about 200 fighter-jets and other military aircraft in southern Turkey.

The draft contains an option for future deployment of U.S. troops. But Turkish officials said such an option would not be considered until a later stage.

Turkish military sources said three northern Iraqi airports are being prepared for the arrival of U.S. forces. The Harir air base has been renovated. North of Hariri, the United States has constructed a runway for heavy aircraft. Both airports are under the authority of Masoud Barzani. A third airport is in Suleymaniyeh, under the authority Jalal Talabani.

A key obstacle, officials said, is the Turkish parliament. Parliament is expected to demand a U.S. pledge for massive aid even in exchange for reduced military cooperation. Turkish State Minister Ali Babacan said Ankara has not conceded on Washington's offer of a $15 billion aid package to Turkey.

But U.S. officials said this package is no longer being offered to Ankara. They said U.S. aid for Turkey would be discussed after the Iraq war.

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