Turkey OKs U.S. request on air base use
After months of delay, Turkey's Cabinet on Monday approved a long-standing U.S. request to have increased access to a strategic air base for flying into Iraq and Afghanistan.
The decision was another step toward improving relations with Washington that were strained when Turkey refused to allow U.S. troops to stage an invasion of Iraq from Turkish territory in March 2003.
A Cabinet decree ¡ª allowing the United States to fly in more cargo planes into the southern Incirlik Air Base for one year beginning in June ¡ª was sent to President Ahmet Necdet Sezer for approval, the semiofficial Anatolia news agency said.
The details of the agreement were not released. The U.S. request, which was relayed to Turkey in June, asked permission to establish a logistics hub at Incirlik.
U.S. Ambassador Eric Edelman and Turkish Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul are scheduled to hold a joint news conference on the deal Tuesday.
According to private NTV television, Turkey also accepted a U.S. request for blanket clearance for all cargo flights, backing off an earlier stance that each flight should get separate permission before landing and takeoff.
U.S. diplomats had expressed unease about Turkey's delay and its insistence on requiring separate permission for each flight.
The United States plans to fly in large civilian cargo flights to Incirlik and redistribute the goods to military planes for Afghanistan and Iraq.
Incirlik now hosts some 10 KC-135 refueling aircraft, supporting operations for Afghanistan and Iraq. There are about 1,400 airmen at the base.
The current deal expires June 23. The one-year mandate of the new agreement likely will start then.
Turkey last year allowed the United States to fly thousands of U.S. troops out of Iraq through Incirlik, which is about 600 miles from the Iraq border and 2,000 miles west of Afghanistan. The United States has had access to Incirlik since 1954.
Incirlik was used by the United States and its allies during the 1991 Gulf War to launch airstrikes against Iraq. It was the hub for U.S.-led flights enforcing a no-fly zone over Iraq for 12 years until 2003.
The base also was the main U-2 operating location until May 1960, when Francis Gary Powers' aircraft was shot down by Soviet surface-to-air missiles over Sverdlovsk.