European rift widening over war on Iraq

3 nations bar NATO effort to plan defense of Turkey

France, Germany, Belgium balk

Russia joins opponents, urges broader inspections

February 11, 2003|By Todd Richissin | Todd Richissin,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

LONDON - France, Germany and Belgium yesterday blocked NATO efforts to begin planning to protect Turkey in case of a war with Iraq, prompting a public call for emergency consultations under the alliance's mutual defense treaty for the first time in its 53-year history.

The dispute will not leave Turkey without NATO protection, but the objections underscored deepening and increasingly bitter divisions over the confrontation with Iraq, not only between the United States and the three countries but within Europe itself.

Later in the day, the divide was widened further when Russia issued a joint statement with France and Germany opposing war plans and urging expanded weapons inspections instead, marking the first time since the end of the Cold War that the three nations have publicly aligned themselves against the United States.

The declaration was a clear signal that the United States faces tough diplomatic negotiations if it seeks a second United Nations resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq. All three countries are members of the U.N. Security Council, and France and Russia, as permanent members, have veto power.

France and Russia, along with China, have hinted that they might exercise that power. Britain, which has been leading a separate European faction in support of an aggressive stance against Iraq, is the only one of the five permanent members of the Security Council backing the United States.

In Washington, President Bush said the divide threatens NATO.

"Upset is not the proper word," Bush said. "I am disappointed that France is willing to block NATO from helping a country like Turkey to prepare."

Bush added, "I think it affects the alliance in a negative way when you're not able to make a statement of mutual defense."

France, Germany and Belgium are the only countries among NATO's 19 members that oppose the contingency planning, which requires unanimous consent to proceed. The countries had agreed last week to temporarily drop their opposition and take the weekend to consider the proposal. But one hour before the plans would have been set in motion automatically, France objected and was quickly joined by Belgium and then Germany.

That prompted Turkey to request the emergency consultations, which ended without resolution yesterday and were scheduled to resume today.

"The majority of the NATO countries reiterated the urgency for NATO to take a decision," said the alliance's secretary-general, Lord Robertson of Britain.

The proposal, crafted by the United States, would deploy Patriot missiles, AWACS surveillance planes, and defenses against chemical and biological weapons.

All three opposing countries said that they are committed to protecting Turkey as part of NATO's mutual defense pact. But in an effort to slow the momentum toward a war against Iraq, they have resisted strong U.S. pressure to allow the plans to proceed.

"It would signify that we have already entered into the logic of war, that ... any chance, any initiative to still resolve the conflict in a peaceful way was gone," Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel said yesterday in Brussels.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said at a news conference at the Pentagon that the United States and its allies would continue planning a defensive strategy for Turkey regardless of what NATO decides. Over the weekend, when it became apparent that there would be opposition, he called the action "disgraceful."

"There are 19 countries in NATO, so it's 16 to 3," he said yesterday. "I think it's a mistake. And what we have to do for the United States is make sure that that planning does go forward, preferably within NATO but, if not, bilaterally or multiple bilaterals. And we are already going about that task."

Lord Robertson said disagreements within NATO are "heated," but he stressed that all 19 members of the alliance would unite to protect Turkey if necessary.

"The question still is not if but when to begin the planning," he said. "I am not trying to minimize the issue. It is serious. The NATO nations take it seriously, hence the debate, and allies will act responsively and collectively."

Turkey has not formally asked for help, and NATO observers said France, Germany and Belgium could drop their objections once it does so. But their move was a retort to heavy pressure from the United States, which has lobbied for nearly a month to begin the military preparations.

Turkish officials downplayed the disagreement and said they were confident a consensus could be reached on the timing of mobilizing the NATO plan.

"They did not veto the protection of Turkey," Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis said in the capital, Ankara. "These countries have problems with the timing," he said, adding that the "problem can be overcome, because there is no disagreement on principle."

In Washington, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said NATO is legally obligated to assist Turkey. The alliance should make sure that Turkey "is not put at any risk," Powell said.

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