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 Friday, 10 January, 2003, 16:54 GMT
Turkey allows US military inspections
A US Air Force F-16 takes off from Turkey's Incirlik air base
Turkey's Incirlik air base is crucial to US planners
Turkey has granted permission for US officials to inspect its ports and airbases, as part of preparations for a possible war against Iraq.

The surveys are due to start on Monday and are expected to last about 10 days.

Correspondents say Washington has been keen to get Ankara on side in any military operations against Iraq, although the Turkish government remains sceptical.

The announcement came as European Union leaders reaffirmed their support for a peaceful solution to the crisis.

The move by Prime Minister Abdullah Gul to allow US teams to inspect Turkish facilities comes a full month after Ankara first agreed in principle to the inspections.

The decision has been delayed over a disagreement on the legal status of the US personnel carrying out the surveys.

Misgivings

Any final approval for the stationing of US troops in Turkey in the event of a war against Iraq would have to be endorsed by parliament - where it is likely to face serious opposition.

Turkish Prime Minister Abdullah Gul
Abdullah Gul authorised the inspections
During the Gulf War of 1991, Turkey's support was critical to the US-led coalition.

American planners are hoping to use Turkish bases for strikes against northern Iraq.

But many in Turkey fear that a conflict could devastate the country's ailing economy and create instability in the region.

Friday's announcement came as a Turkish trade delegation travelled to Iraq carrying a message for President Saddam Hussein which urged him to abide by United Nations calls to disarm.

On Thursday the US said it was still convinced Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, and that its stance towards Baghdad remained unchanged.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Iraq was still refusing to co-operate actively with UN inspectors, and it was a known fact that there were weapons in Iraq.

Deep divisions

Meanwhile Greece - which took over the EU presidency this month - said that finding a peaceful settlement to the mounting crisis between Iraq and the US would be one of its priorities

Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis told journalists in Athens on Friday that both he and his foreign minister had already been in contact with many of their counterparts across Europe.

Anti-war demonstration in Turkey
Most Turks are against any attack on Iraq
He expressed confidence that agreement could be reached amongst EU member states on Iraq.

The prime minister was backed up by European Commission President Romano Prodi, who is currently on a visit to Greece.

He stressed that war with Iraq was not inevitable and said EU member states must do everything they can to find a peaceful solution.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, for his part, told the French newspaper Le Monde that it would be hard to justify military action unless Iraq was proved to have secret weapons programmes.

But the BBC's Richard Galpin in Athens says achieving a consensus within the EU over Iraq will not be easy, because member states are deeply divided.

Britain, in particular, has allied itself with the US and is making overt preparations for war.


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10 Jan 03 | Middle East
09 Jan 03 | Politics
09 Jan 03 | Middle East
08 Jan 03 | Middle East
07 Jan 03 | Middle East
27 Dec 02 | Business
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