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Turkey Delays Opening Airspace to U.S.

Turkey Delays Opening Airspace to U.S.

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ANKARA, Turkey (AP) -- Turkey on Friday delayed opening its airspace to U.S. warplanes for strikes against Iraq despite parliamentary approval for the overflights, insisting the United States agree to its demands to move troops into northern Iraq, officials said.

U.S. and Turkish officials held overnight talks until early Friday, but failed to work out an agreement on the conditions of the overflights, Western diplomats said. Talks were expected to continue.

"The military and diplomatic basis must be prepared," said Deputy Prime Minister Abdullatif Sener. "The fact that the authorization was approved doesn't mean it is automatically put into effect."

When asked how long an agreement would take, Sener said: "It isn't an issue of time."

Turkey's parliament voted Thursday to allow the United States to 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.

But parliament's resolution also allows Turkey to move its own forces into northern Iraq, where Turkey fears instability. Officials said Turkish insistence on sending troops there has prevented a final airspace agreement.

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

Negotiations are also 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, speaking on condition of anonymity. The United States wants to be able to use the airspace without prior notification.

The United States hopes to see the agreement "implemented in the most immediate fashion," said a Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The United States also wants to use refueling aircraft at Incirlik air base in southern Turkey, but Turkey is balking, saying it is not 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.

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.

Polls show up to 94 percent of Turks are against a war, opposition that contributed to months of delays by Turkey's government. 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 in exchange for letting 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 military would not have time to bring in the units.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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