Shield plan, terror to mark Panetta’s visit
ANKARA – Hürriyet Daily News
AFP photoU.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta will visit Turkey later this week for talks that are expected to focus on enhancing defense cooperation and the ongoing fight against terrorism, according to diplomatic sources.
Panetta’s visit comes just two weeks before the end of the year, by which time a U.S. radar system will be installed in eastern Turkey as part of NATO’s missile shield project, officials have said.
The radar, which has prompted Iranian reactions against Turkey, will also be on Panetta’s agenda, according to sources.
“The fight against the PKK [outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party] will be a priority on the agenda for talks with Panetta,” a diplomatic source told the Hürriyet Daily News yesterday.
The source said the Dec. 15-16 meetings would also touch on a $111 million deal between Ankara and Washington for U.S. drones that would be transferred from Iraq to Turkey to provide surveillance support in the fight against the PKK, as well as three AH-1 Super Cobra helicopters that the Pentagon will sell to Turkey.
The U.S. deployed four MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) at Turkey’s southern airbase of İncirlik last month. The Cobra helicopters will be dispatched to Turkey in early January, sources said.
Ankara has been asking the United States for the right to purchase four MQ-1 Predator surveillance drones and two armed versions of the UAV, the MQ-9 Reaper, but Washington has yet to respond because of its concerns that the sale would be vetoed in the U.S. Congress due to Ankara’s policies regarding Israel.
“We keep requesting to purchase drones,” another diplomatic source said.
Panetta is also expected to raise the issue of Turkey’s strained relations with Israel. He recently called on Israel to find a way to normalize its relations with Turkey, Egypt and Jordan in order to break the isolation surrounding it and sit at the “damned” table with Palestinians.
Turkey’s ties with its former ally Israel have been chilly since Israeli forces killed nine Turks in a raid on a Turkish-led aid flotilla bound for Gaza last year. Israel has refused to apologize or pay compensation for the deaths, leading Turkey to downgrade diplomatic relations and cancel all military deals.