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Tuesday, 19 March, 2002, 23:35 GMT
US attack on Iraq 'not imminent'
Dick Cheney (left) with Bulent Ecevit
Turkey is nervous about a US strike on Iraq
The United States has assured Turkey it is not planning an imminent strike against Iraq, the Turkish prime minister has said.

Speaking after talks with US Vice-President Dick Cheney, Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit said Mr Cheney "underlined that there will not be an operation against Iraq in the near future".

There is no decision to carry out a military strike against Iraq

Bulent Ecevit, Turkish prime minister
The US vice-president arrived in Turkey on Tuesday on the final leg of a 12-nation tour to build support for America's campaign against international terrorism.

Mr Cheney's visit comes amid heightened speculation that the United States is preparing to attack Iraq. The US has repeatedly accused of seeking to develop weapons of mass destruction.

Mr Ecevit called on Saddam Hussein to let United Nations arms inspectors, banned since 1998, back into the country.

"We hope that Iraq abides by UN decisions and opens its doors to inspections," he said, and "meets the expectations not only of the United States but of the whole world".

But Mr Ecevit told reporters: "There is no decision [by the United States] to carry out a military strike against Iraq."

Turkish fears

Turkey has opposed military action against its Iraqi neighbour, fearing a conflict could worsen its crisis-hit economy and cause internal divisions.

Turkey says it has lost $40bn worth of trade as a result of the 1991 Gulf War.

Turkish anti-US protester
Many Turks oppose military action against Iraq

It also fears a military campaign to try to topple Iraqi President Saddam Hussein could lead to the creation of a Kurdish state in northern Iraq and encourage Turkey's own 12 million-strong Kurdish population to seek to break away.

A civil war between Turkey and its Kurdish minority claimed more than 30,000 lives in the 1980s and 1990s.

A press conference by Mr Cheney scheduled for Wednesday was cancelled due to lack of time, US officials said.

Turkey counts itself as a close ally of the US, and has been on the receiving end of much financial and political support.

In turn, it enthusiastically backed the United States' war on terror, and the effort to drive the Taleban from Afghanistan.

Prime Minister Ecevit has made his feelings about military action clear over the last few weeks.

Turkey, a Nato member, has allowed the US to use its airbase at Incirlik for patrolling no-fly zones above Iraq, and continued co-operation would be crucial for any US military action.

See also:

18 Mar 02 | Middle East
Cheney holds firm
18 Mar 02 | Middle East
Iraq counters Cheney mission
19 Mar 02 | Middle East
US offers olive branch to Arafat
19 Mar 02 | South Asia
US declares Anaconda a 'success'
19 Mar 02 | South Asia
Bush warns of battles ahead
11 Mar 02 | South Asia
Afghan forces gather for final push
13 Mar 02 | South Asia
Eyewitness: Discontent in Gardez
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