Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has denied Thursday that Turkey closed its airspace to all northern Iraq traffic, following earlier reports to the contrary on Turkish television as Condoleezza Rice prepares to arrive in Istanbul for Friday's Iraq conference.
- Turkey, which is pressing Iraq to crack down on PKK guerrillas based there, has not closed its
airspace to flights to and from northern Iraq, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday.
Turkish broadcaster NTV television reported earlier that flights to and from northern Iraq had been closed as part of economic sanctions targeting groups supporting the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) operating in northern Iraq.
Erdogan also told reporters sanctions against groups supporting the PKK had not yet been put into force.
Earlier, private broadcaster NTV gave no source for its report and it was not clear whether any ban would affect U.S. military planes operating between NATO member Turkey and Iraq. Officials were
not immediately available to confirm the NTV report.
Ankara is furious with the autonomous Kurdish administration of northern Iraq for failing to crack down on PKK guerrillas who are battling Turkish troops near the Turkish-Iraqi border.
Turkey's cabinet approved on Wednesday unspecified economic sanctions against groups deemed to support the outlawed PKK in a move widely seen as targeting Masoud Barzani's Iraqi Kurdish administration.
"I cannot discuss the measures we are thinking of. The measures are directed against the PKK and those that directly support them," Deputy Prime Minister and government spokesman Cemil Cicek said late on Wednesday.
Turkish newspapers have mentioned a flight ban as one of the possible measures, along with restrictions on traffic through the Habur border gate with Iraq, curbs on exports of electricity and cement to northern Iraq and a clampdown on the operations of firms belonging to Barzani in Turkey.
On Tuesday, airline officials told Reuters Turkey's civil aviation authority had denied Istanbul-based charter airline Tarhan Tower permission to fly two of its three weekly flights to Arbil, Barzani's capital, this week.
The United States uses Turkey's Incirlik airbase to provide logistical support to its forces in Iraq, though it has very few troops in the mainly Kurdish and relatively peaceful north of that country.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will discuss the PKK issue with Turkish leaders in Ankara on Friday. Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan will then hold talks next Monday in Washington with U.S. President George W. Bush. ( Reuters )