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Turkey grants overflight rights to U.S.

U.S. still opposes Turkish troops in Iraq

Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, center, after winning a vote of confidence in parliament on Sunday.
Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, center, after winning a vote of confidence in parliament on Sunday.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Turkey has given the United States the right to use its airspace to fly into Iraq.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan confirmed the approval in an address to his nation Sunday.

Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said, "We got permission for our first overflight of Turkey last night and used that to insert some forces into northern Iraq."

The United States had sought permission to use Turkish soil to launch attacks on Iraq, Turkey's neighbor to the south, but the Turkish parliament refused to approve the move, despite billions of dollars of incentives offered by the U.S. government.

The prospect that Turkish troops might themselves try to enter Iraq to thwart the Kurds there from forming an independent state that might foment Turkey's Kurdish population to rebel has been something the United States has sought to avoid.

Though a smaller number of Turkish troops -- 50 to 100 -- are in northern Iraq, they have been there since "well before this conflict started," Myers said.

Erdogan said Turkish troops are needed "in the area" to control "the movement of refugees." He said Turkish troops will help "those who are in need."

In passing, he said, "For the unity of our country, we will take every necessary precaution."

President Bush said, "We're making it very clear to the Turks not to come into northern Iraq.

"They know we're working with the Kurds to make sure there's not an incident" that would provide an excuse for them to go into northern Iraq.

Missouri Democrat Rep. Dick Gephardt told reporters, "I'm still hopeful, and I think that our military folks are hopeful, that the Turks will not get involved in the Kurdish area of Iraq, that they will not get into a fight with the Kurds, and that they'll give us some more flight rights.

"I don't think we're going to get more than that, but if it's just that, I think we're going to be fine in dealing with the northern part of Iraq."

Erdogan spoke after the new government, controlled by his ruling Justice and Development Party, won an expected vote of confidence in parliament Sunday.

He said the war is "affecting our country negatively" and the country is going through "a very difficult period."

For Turkey, which sits on Iraq's northern border, he said, "it is a fire erupting in our own neighborhood."

He said the "wealthy resources of Iraq" should belong to Iraq as a whole. "We are in agreement on all these issues with the United States of America.

"We wish Iraq will find peace and stability as soon as possible," he said.

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