Turkey is in talks with the United States to provide a base for a fleet of U.S. Predator drones now stationed in Iraq, Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç said on Monday.
On Sunday, the Washington Post reported the U.S. government was considering a request from Turkey for a fleet of surveillance drones to be based in Turkey to carry out operations against terrorists based in northern Iraq.
Citing unnamed senior U.S. military officials, the newspaper said Washington had not yet made a decision on the request.
"We know that Turkey needs to use unmanned aerial vehicles for intelligence purposes. In order to obtain these Predators in Turkey, I know the foreign ministry is working on this," Arınç told a news conference when asked about the report.
"This has not yet been concluded," he added.
According to the Washington Post, the U.S. military has flown unarmed surveillance Predators above northern Iraq since 2007 and has shared images with Turkey as part of "a secretive joint crackdown" on PKK terrorists.
All U.S. troops are due to leave Iraq at the end of 2011, meaning the Predator drones would also need to be based outside Iraq from Jan. 1 2012, the paper said.
Turkey, a vital NATO ally for the United States, said last week it would host a NATO early-warning radar system as part of the defenses of the Western military alliance.
Last month, the Turkish military launched a series of air strikes and artillery raids against suspected PKK hideouts in northern Iraq in retaliation for a spate of terrorist attacks against the Turkish military inside Turkey.
Turkey has attacked suspected PKK bases in the mountains of northern Iraq for years and has also launched cross-border raids. Turkey also has 1,300 soldiers in Iraq under an agreement set up with Baghdad in the 1990s, Iraq says.
Turkey's Chief of General Staff, the head of the army and head of the military gendarmerie met with Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan on Monday, fuelling speculation over whether Turkey was planning to launch a land operation into northern Iraq.
Arınç said the meeting was a "regular meeting" and there was no immediate plan for any cross-border assault.
"Right now there is no talk (of a ground operation) but when it is required, there will be no need to announce it beforehand or have meeting after meeting about it," he said.
"Definitely do not think that this meeting was about a ground operation or anything to do with it."