Sunday, September 5, 2010

No Troops, Weapons Will Go Through Turkey

The United States has no intention of pulling out heavy equipment and weapons from Iraq through Turkey, the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman said Sept. 4.

"I absolutely did not come here to negotiate the withdrawal of heavy equipment and weapons from Iraq across Turkey's territory," Adm. Mike Mullen told reporters here.

"Though we certainly rely on Turkey's infrastructure to move some of our equipment in and out of our area of operations, we do not transport weapons through Turkey nor do we intend to in the future."

Turkish officials said Sept. 3 that Washington had asked Ankara permission to move some of its non-combat technical equipment through Turkish territory after the U.S. combat mission in Iraq formally ended.

Discussions were underway between the two NATO allies on the request, they added.

U.S. forces ended their combat mission in Iraq on Aug. 31, drawing down troop numbers that had surged to almost 170,000 following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion to less than 50,000, prior to a complete withdrawal at the end of 2011.

Mullen said the United States had moved almost 100,000 troops and more than 2 million pieces of equipment out of Iraq over the course of last year, and added that none of the military equipment or troops had passed through Turkey.

"The lines of communication and the routes that we have used today are certainly routes that we will use in the future," Mullen said.

Mullen also said that talks were underway in NATO on the possibility of including Turkey in a planned missile defense shield in Europe aimed at countering threats from Iran.

"The membership of NATO believes that having a missile defense architecture is a very important capability that needs to be put in place and evolve over time," he said.

"There have been discussions with several members of NATO to include Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania in terms of parts of this ... missile defense architecture and whether countries would support installations. ... Those discussions continue."

Romania has already started talks with the United States on the defense shield, while Bulgaria has expressed a desire to join it.

Turkey disagrees with the United States on the approach to Iran's nuclear program, insisting on a diplomatic solution to the dispute. Washington favors sanctions.

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