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Turkey delays Iraq war decision

U.S. forces use Turkey's Incirlik airbase for no-fly-zone patrols
U.S. forces use Turkey's Incirlik airbase for no-fly-zone patrols

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ANKARA, Turkey -- NATO member Turkey will delay any decision on whether to support possible military action against Iraq until weapons inspectors have announced their initial findings.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's de facto leader, confirmed the country's position on Friday as senior U.S. State Department and Treasury officials arrived in Turkey to discuss economic assistance for the country in the event of war.

Turkey is seen as a key ally for any U.S.-led action against Baghdad as it shares a border with Iraq and is the only Muslim member of NATO.

Erdogan, who is banned from entering parliament because of a conviction for sedition, leads the Justice and Development Party (AKP), which was formed from the ashes of a banned Islamist party.

When it won power there were fears that it may move Turkey away from its traditional pro-Western and secular policies.

Turkey on Wednesday approved the continuation of no-fly zone patrols over northern Iraq from a Turkish airbase but the country remains wary of a war against Iraq.

Chief weapons inspector Hans Blix is to present a report to the U.N. Security Council on January 27, 60 days after the inspections began.

Speaking on Turkish television, Erdogan said: "You would appreciate that the U.N. decision is binding for us due to the signatures we have put on international conventions.

"Both we and the government say that Turkey will not finalise its position until the U.N. Security Council's decision."

He added: "The report by the U.N. inspectors about weapons of mass destruction has not been submitted yet. Until (then) I believe what is said now is no more than gossip and mere prediction."

State Department Undersecretary Marc Grossman and Treasury Undersecretary John Taylor are in Turkey after meetings in Washington about a U.S. economic package for Turkey "in the context of a possible military campaign against Iraq," a senior Turkish official told CNN.

The U.S. has also asked to station large numbers of U.S. forces in Turkey, the official said, adding that any decision on forces would need to be voted on by the Turkish parliament.

"The U.S. delegation should have a much clearer picture of how Turkey will respond to its requests after these meeting," he said.

Turkey's influential National Security Council of generals and elected politicians, is also due to address the Iraq issue later on Friday.

Turkey's AKP dominated parliament opened the way for Erdogan to become the country's official leader on Friday by changing a constitutional clause that bars those convicted of engaging in illegal "ideological and anarchic activities" from running for political office.

He is now eligible to stand in a by-election scheduled for February 9 and if he wins would be able to enter parliament and as AKP leader be put forward as prime minister.

AKP vice-president Abdullah Gul is currently prime minister but Western countries, including the U.S., have treated Erdogan as leader during his trips abroad.



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