Turkey prime minister agrees to permit U.S. overflights

By BARRY SCHWEID

AP Diplomatic Writer

WASHINGTON – Turkish Prime Recep Tayyip Erdogan reversed course Friday and told Secretary of State Colin Powell that U.S. warplanes can fly over Turkey to attack Iraq, a senior U.S. official said.

Powell had chided Turkey earlier for imposing conditions for the overflights, which will 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.

The Bush administration was discussing separately the sensitive issue of Turkish troops being introduced into northern Iraq, the official said.

Powell himself said: “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 Turks would expect a military presence in northern Iraq to prevent breakaway sentiments among Iraqi 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.

“We don't see any need for any Turkish incursions into northern Iraq,” Powell said, rejecting a principal Turkish government condition for overflights.

Powell talked to Erdogan on Thursday and again on Friday.

The Turkish parliament approved this week flights by allied warplanes over Turkey to and from bombing raids against Iraq. The Turkish government delayed opening its airspace with the demand that Turkish troops be allowed in northern Iraq and that Turkey have prior notification of all flights' targets and flight details.

Despite approval by Turkey's 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.”

Powell, evidently irritated, said “we've had some difficulty in operationalizing” the arrangement, and the issue of Turkish troops going into Iraq should be kept separate from overflights.

The Bush administration also was meeting resistance to its request that Iraqi diplomats be expelled by all countries that had diplomatic relations with Baghdad.

Richard Boucher, the State Department spokesman, said Australia and Romania expelled diplomats. According to an Associated Press tally, however, far more countries were ignoring or rejecting the U.S. request.

Muslim countries voiced anger. “The U.S. can't dictate to other countries,” Indonesian Vice President Hamzah Haz said. “Indonesia will not meet the political demands of the U.S.”

Russia, France, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Finland were among countries that said they would not go along with the Bush administration.

“France thinks that such a decision is a matter of our sovereignty,” the French Foreign Ministry's spokesman said.

The Bush administration has not ruled out using Turkish troops as part of an operation in Iraq by the wartime coalition. Aware of the anxiety of the heavy Kurdish population in northern Iraq, however, the administration has tried since even before the war to discourage unilateral action by the Turks.

In Ankara, Turkey's capital, a Turkish military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said negotiations also 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.

Despite strong military ties from as early as the Korean War a half-century ago, 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 other and more awkward ways to plan an invasion of the north.

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

While U.S. and British troops have moved into the south, they have not opened a northern front.

Powell, a former general and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the first war in the Persian Gulf area, in 1991, said the Bush administration had opened a number of channels to Iraq's military leaders to urge them to give up.

“It would be wise for Iraq's leaders to realize their day is over,” he said.