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Turkey delays opening airspace

Ankara, March 21 (Reuters): Turkey delayed opening airspace to US aircraft as war raged in neighbouring Iraq today, demanding close control of overflights and greater freedom to dispatch its own troops over the border, sources said.

Parliament held a long-awaited vote yesterday, granting permission for US warplanes to cross Turkish territory for operations in northern Iraq.

But missions Washington hoped could go ahead immediately, easing pressure on a main invasion force pressing up from the south, became bogged down in all-night talks over terms.

“We’ve taken a break in talks with the US because there are snags both concerning airspace use and movement of Turkish troops into north Iraq,” a Turkish foreign ministry source said.

Washington opposes any unilateral dispatch of Turkish troops to northern Iraq, fearing a “war within a war” — clashes between Turkish troops and local Kurds and disruption of the US war campaign. Ankara sees the region as of strategic importance and seeks freer action beyond the US-led command. Three weeks ago Turkish deputies rejected a motion allowing 62,000 US troops to be deployed on Turkish soil as a launchpad for operations into northern Iraq.

Turkey thus forfeited a multi-billion dollar US financial aid package to guard a frail economy against the impact of war. Yesterday’s vote appeared to have finally sealed some form of cooperation with Washington, however limited, and raised hopes on markets for broader military agreements and financial aid.

But news of the snags over airspace helped drive down the Istanbul stock market by up to 7 per cent as well as depressing the Turkish lira and bond prices.

Diplomatic sources said Turkey was demanding detailed information of every overflight, its timing and nature of the aircraft and its load. The US considered the degree of detail went beyond the demands of safety.

Other diplomats said Turkey wanted a joint memorandum of understanding linking the overflights to broad Turkish freedom to operate in northern Iraq. Ankara expected a reply from Washington today.

France firm on envoys

France and The Netherlands turned down a US request that it expel Iraqi diplomats based in Paris because it concerned a question of French sovereignty, a foreign ministry spokesman said today.

“We have been asked to expel Iraqi diplomats in Paris. Such a decision concerns our sovereignty. There is no reason to do so,” he told journalists.

Officials said US ambassador to France Howard Leach, had approached the foreign ministry with the request. The US said yesterday it was expelling three Iraqi diplomats based in Washington and appealed to other countries to close down Iraqi embassies on their territory.

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