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NATO Head Calls For Closer EU Ties In Afghanistan

NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen
PARIS (Reuters) -- NATO and the European Union must work together more closely in Afghanistan because the current lack of cooperation is endangering troops on the ground, the alliance's head has said.

Behind the scenes, diplomats and strategists have increasingly voiced their anger about the lack of security agreements between NATO and the EU because of a tussle involving Turkey and EU member Cyprus.

In an interview with French newspaper "Le Monde," NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen made no reference to Turkey and did not give any explanation for the failure to strike an accord.

"It's crucial to improve cooperation between NATO and Europe. It has been impossible to conclude a security agreement between NATO and the EU in Afghanistan," he was quoted as saying by the paper in a preview of its Saturday edition.

"This poses security problems for staff on the ground."

Rasmussen, who took over as head of the Western military alliance on August 1, said he would launch an initiative soon to address the problem.

Diplomats have said Turkey's frustration over by being sidelined by the European Union and its long dispute with Cyprus are hindering NATO-EU relations.

Diplomats told Reuters earlier this year that due to pressure from Turkey, NATO troops in Afghanistan were not sharing plans and documents about the security situation with EUPOL, the EU's police-training force there.

They said Turkey was refusing to accept any agreements on mutual security between NATO and the EU, and that EUPOL had to strike agreements with each country instead -- which they said was dangerous and caused uncertainty among troops.

Turkey initially objected to Rasmussen becoming the head of NATO but agreed after U.S. President Barack Obama offered promises that one of Rasmussen's deputies would be a Turk.

In the interview, Rasmussen, who met French President Nicolas Sarkozy on September 3, also renewed a call for increasing the number of Afghan soldiers in the security forces, and deploying more foreign instructors to train the locals.

Regarding relations with Russia, which he has made a top priority since taking over the helm at NATO, Rasmussen repeated that the alliance had an "open-door policy" and wanted to develop a strategic partnership with Moscow.