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NATO: Talks On Defending Turkey End In Deadlock

Brussels, 12 February 2003 (RFE/RL) -- NATO's ruling body met again today in Brussels without resolving a deadlock over Iraq. The talks were suspended after about 90 minutes and were scheduled to resume later in the day.

NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson and representatives of other NATO members had tried to persuade three alliance ambassadors to grant Turkey's request for military security in the event of a war in Iraq.

France, Germany, and Belgium had vetoed a plan to bolster defenses in the NATO-member country, saying the action would undermine UN peace efforts. The other 16 members of NATO favor granting Turkey's request. NATO ambassadors met during the past two days but failed to overcome the impasse.

NATO spokesman Yves Brodeur told journalists after the meeting that: "We have a sound basis to continue consultations further. The proposal, as it stands now, focuses specifically on the defensive needs of Turkey. So, we are talking here, as we always have, of prudent, deterrent, defensive contingency measures. (The) Allies are all working very hard to find a solution to what is a serious issue. The work will, therefore, continue toward achieving a solution throughout the day as we believe that we now have elements which could help us to bring the discussion forward."

NATO diplomats have told RFE/RL that the United States was originally also requesting heightened protection for its bases in Europe and the possibility to move troops from the Balkans closer to Iraq. These requests appear to have been dropped.

NATO officials confirm France, Germany, and Belgium continue to oppose a decision before Friday when UN weapons inspectors return to the UN Security Council. NATO officials say the North Atlantic Council might be meeting tonight.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said yesterday that the credibility of the 53-year-old military alliance is at risk if it fails to confront the crisis with Iraq.

"We still are hopeful that a way can be found for the alliance (NATO) to respond. We are undertaking most intense diplomacy today talking to France and to Germany and to Belgium to see if they would not change their positions because all we are essentially doing is responding to a member nation's request for planning assistance in the event of some trouble that may lie ahead," he said.

The division in the alliance also threatens U.S. and British efforts to rally support in the UN Security Council for military action against Iraq. France and Germany, joined by Russia and China, are seeking more time for stronger UN inspections.

In Dubai yesterday, the Arab-language television Al-Jazeera broadcast a taped message, believed to be from Osama bin Laden, urging Muslims to fight the United States and repel any war against Iraq.

And inside Iraq, the UN said its experts and an Iraqi team today will start destroying four plastic containers filled with mustard gas and 10 artillery shells uncovered years ago.