Published March 18, 2003
ANKARA, Turkey – Turkey's government said Wednesday it would ask parliament to grant the U.S. Air Force the right to use Turkish airspace in an Iraq war but would not immediately ask lawmakers to allow in U.S. troops.
Cabinet spokesman Cemil Cicek said a resolution allowing airspace rights would be put to a parliament vote by Thursday at the latest and that a separate motion on troop deployment could be considered later.
U.S. bombers based in Europe or the United States would need to cross Turkey to strike Iraq, and Washington urgently wants permission to use Turkish airspace.
Cicek earlier said that a troop resolution would be sent to parliament. Later, he said that after talks with U.S. officials it was decided that parliament would vote only on airspace permission.
"What the United States is requesting at this stage is airspace rights," Cicek said. "Whatever the needs will be in the coming days -- that is a different matter."
At a news conference about an hour earlier, Cicek had said that a two-part resolution would be introduced to parliament.
"The first (part) is sending Turkish soldiers to a foreign country. The second concerns accepting foreign soldiers on the territory," he said.
When asked by startled journalists at the news conference to explain the apparent reversal, Cicek said his remarks had been misunderstood.
The Turkish press widely reported after the first news conference that the government was asking parliament to allow in U.S. troops.
The United States had been pressing for permission to send 62,000 soldiers to Turkey to open a northern front against Iraq to divide Iraq's army. Ships carrying armor for those soldiers are off the Turkish coast, but unloading the ships could take weeks.
Turkey's political and military leaders decided in an emergency meeting late Monday that Turkey should take quick steps toward authorizing the U.S. military to use Turkish territory.
Parliament rebuffed a Washington request earlier this month, jeopardizing a $15 billion aid and grants package the United States had promised Turkey in exchange for a deployment. The money would help shore up Turkey's economy if there is an Iraq war.
With polls showing 94 percent of the Turkish public opposed to war and strong opposition within Turkey's governing Justice and Development Party, the government had been hesitant to push through a new resolution.
Monday night the country's top political leaders and the military chief met and reaffirmed support for a new resolution.
Turkey fears that once Saddam is toppled, Iraqi Kurds who already enjoy autonomy in the north may declare independence -- a move that could inspire Turkey's own Kurds and revive a 15-year war between Turkish troops and autonomy-seeking Kurdish rebels.
Turkey has indicated that it intends to send troops across the border into northern Iraq to prevent secession by the Kurds.
The United States has urged Turkey not to unilaterally send its soldiers across the border. Secretary of State Colin Powell called his Turkish counterpart, Abdullah Gul, on Monday to discuss the U.S. concerns.