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Turkey Ok's Use of Airbases by US

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Turkey OKs use of airbases by U.S.

MSNBC NEWS SERVICES

ANKARA, Turkey, Dec. 3 — Turkey will allow the United States to launch strikes on Iraq from its bases inside the country if the United Nations approves military action, the nation’s foreign minister said Tuesday. The decision, which followed a full-court press by U.S. and British diplomats, gives Washington a crucial front-line position in the event of a war against Iraq.

“WHAT WE MEAN by cooperation is opening air bases and opening facilities to use,” Turkish Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis told a news conference after meeting with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.

Asked if Turkish cooperation would include combat strikes, Yakis replies, “Yes ... If you’re talking about air bases, yes, those will be opened.”

Yakis said Turkey was against a war, but “if it comes to that, then of course, we will cooperate with the United States because it’s a big ally and we have excellent relations with the United States.”

Latest news on Iraq

But, in keeping with Turkey’s longstanding position, Yakis said that any campaign against Iraq must have U.N. approval.

“The present resolution ... does not allow the automatic resorting to armed intervention,” he said.

Yakis spoke as U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz was in Turkey to lobby for Turkish support of an operation against Iraq.

ALREADY IN TURKEY

Turkey’s support is considered crucial in any war. Turkey already hosts some 50 U.S. aircraft that patrol a no-fly zone over northern Iraq, and its bases would be needed if Washington were to open a northern front against Iraq.

But mostly Muslim Turkey has been hesitant to commit to supporting any armed action. Turkey fears that a war in Iraq would destabilize the region, harming its fragile economic recovery program and encouraging Kurdish nationalists in the border region who have battled the state for 15 years.

Earlier, Wolfowitz did not answer directly when asked if the United States had asked for permission to station U.S. troops in Turkey during a war.

“Military and diplomatic planning must proceed because Saddam Hussein must see that we are serious ... that he is surrounded by the international community,” Wolfowitz said.

“One thing we did talk about is the deep concern in Turkey about the condition of the Turkish economy,” Wolfowitz told reporters after a meeting with Prime Minister Abdullah Gul.

“We’re determined to support Turkey, whatever comes, to make sure that the Turkish economy continues to recover. If there is a crisis in this region, we know that Turkey is going to be one of the countries most affected and we want to make sure we deal with that,” Wolfowitz said.

ECONOMIC WOES

He gave few specifics, but did say that Washington had been working with the International Monetary Fund, which has given Turkey $16 billion in loans to help its economic recovery. Washington played a crucial role in helping Turkey get those loans.

As part of its strategy to win Turkish support, Washington has been pushing Turkey’s bid to join the European Union.

“We’ve been doing everything that we can,” Wolfowitz said.

Wolfowitz refused to be drawn on Turkish press reports the United States wanted to station 100,000 American soldiers on Iraq’s northern border and had asked Turkey to contribute as many as 40,000 of its own troops for any military campaign.

“I believe close Turkish-American cooperation will be key to achieving the goal of Iraq disarming voluntarily,” he said.

A Turkish government source said Wolfowitz had not requested a specific number of troops, but added: “The necessity of a military presence was brought to the agenda.”

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