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NATO: U.S. Says Delay Over Turkey Jeopardizes Credibility

  • Ahto Lobjakas

Two NATO council meetings yesterday failed to resolve the deadlock over whether the alliance can start contingency defense planning for Turkey. The United States last night gave dissenters Germany, France, and Belgium 24 hours to fall into line, warning that the alliance's credibility is at risk. Meanwhile, France and Belgium indicated they will continue to block moves to aid Turkey until the UN's chief weapons inspectors in Iraq present their update to the Security Council on 14 February.

Brussels, 11 February 2003 (RFE/RL) -- NATO's sixth top-level meeting on whether to start defensive planning for Turkey to prepare it for a possible war in Iraq broke up last night in Brussels without visible results.

NATO officials say the United States gave Germany, France, and Belgium 24 hours to meet the joint U.S. and Turkish requests, warning that they are "gambling with the alliance's future."

Turkey itself intensified pressure on the three dissenters, invoking for the first time Article 4 of NATO's founding treaty. The article provides for NATO members to consult when any of them believes its territorial integrity, political independence, or security is threatened.

Nicholas Burns, the U.S. ambassador to NATO, last night took the rare step of publicly outlining the implications of the rift. "NATO is facing a serious crisis. The core fabric of our alliance is that if allies are in trouble, we all come to that ally's assistance. Turkey has requested AWACS aircraft, Patriot [anti]missile systems, and chemical and biological teams for the defense of Turkey, not for offensive purposes. That request was made three weeks ago. We've been debating it for three weeks. Turkey went forward today under Article 4, which is very unusual, and made a further request for that assistance. The United States believes very strongly, as Secretary [of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld and Secretary [of State Colin] Powell have both said in the last 24 hours, that all NATO allies must now meet that commitment," Burns said.

A senior NATO official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the United States, backed by the remaining 15 NATO allies, has demanded action from France, Germany, and Belgium within 24 hours, while denying the call represents a deadline. The official nevertheless indicated that the United States, with its backers, is prepared to help Turkey on a bilateral basis in the near future, if need be.

But the official said he is confident a compromise is still possible. He emphasized that the United States, along with its allies, would prefer to act via NATO and has not given up on the alliance. He said that for this to happen, goodwill is needed on the part of the three dissenters, but he said that they have made no specific moves to meet the U.S. position.

France, Germany, and Belgium, meanwhile, adopted a declaration saying they would honor all obligations toward Turkey as an ally. Yet they remained firm in rejecting a decision before 14 February, when the UN's chief weapons inspectors in Iraq return to the UN Security Council.

Speaking to journalists last night, Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt said he would not embark on "a logic that leads to a military operation" rather than a peaceful solution. A French official at NATO said the three countries fear a decision on Turkey now would indicate that the "UN process has ended" and that war with Iraq is inevitable.

NATO sources familiar with the three dissenters' positions also indicated the threat to Turkey might not be as immediate and real as is claimed.

Another NATO official, however, sharply criticized France, Germany, and Belgium for playing for time, saying the three had in mid-January cited a need to see the report by chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix on 27 January, then the report by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell on 5 February, and have now merely picked another date.

NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson said last night that many hopes hang on what he called the "convincing" briefing given to NATO ambassadors yesterday by the alliance's top military official, German General Harald Kujat, on the threat to Turkey and what is needed to combat that threat. "The general is the chairman of NATO's Military Committee, and he was giving the briefing himself. I made the assessment that what he said was telling and was convincing. It'll be up to the nations to decide what they take from that briefing and what conclusion they arrive at. We'll learn a bit more about that when they've had an opportunity of consulting with their capitals," Robertson said.

The senior NATO official quoted above said Kujat's deployment schedules underline the urgency of immediate defense planning for Turkey. Kujat said it would take 30 days for Patriot missiles to be fully set up in Turkey, adding that the deployment of anti-chemical- and anti-biological-warfare teams, as well as AWACS planes, require airlift scheduling and extensive military planning. The high-flying AWACS planes use special radar to detect and track approaching aircraft and missiles.

The official called the refusal of the three dissenting countries to allow military planning for Turkey "logically inconsistent," as all NATO and European Union member states, and even the United Nations, are already making their own contingency plans for war in Iraq.

He also noted that NATO had been happy to provide AWACS aircraft to patrol the skies above all recent EU summits, when Germany, France, and Belgium, among others, had benefited from their presence.