Wednesday, September 1, 2010

U.S. to Shun Military Drills in Turkey

The United States will not take part in upcoming air drills in Turkey, a U.S. embassy official said Sept. 1, as media reports said Washington had conditioned its presence on Israeli attendance.

The U.S. Air Force will not join the October exercises, the official told AFP, saying they had already taken part in the previous edition of the drills in June.

The official would not comment on Turkish media reports that Washington had said it would shun the drills if Ankara failed to invite also Israel, excluded from the exercises amid bilateral tensions with Turkey, once a close ally.

The U.S. message was conveyed to Ankara after invitations were sent out to several countries but not Israel for the "Anatolian Eagle" drills, held since 2001 in central Turkey, unnamed sources told the Hurriyet newspaper.

The Turkish army's press office would not comment on the issue.

Last year, Turkey for the first time excluded Israel from the exercises amid tensions over the Jewish state's devastating offensive on the Gaza Strip.

Turkey eventually cancelled the international section of the drills without explanation after the United States reportedly pulled out.

Since then, Turkish-Israeli ties have hit a new low, raising concern in Washington, after Israeli forces killed nine Turks on May 31 in an operation to stop an aid flotilla that aimed to break Gaza's blockade.

Ankara recalled its ambassador from Tel Aviv and scrapped joint wargames.

The United States was also irked by Turkey's "no" vote to fresh sanctions against Iran, adopted by the UN Security Council in June over the Islamic republic's nuclear program.

Last week, senior Turkish diplomats travelled to Washington in a bid to dispel fears that the Islamist-rooted government is taking NATO's sole mainly Muslim member away from the West.

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