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NATO Deadlocked Over Turkey's Defense in Possible Iraq War - 2003-02-10

NATO Secretary General George Robertson says a deadlock within the alliance over whether it should begin preparing for Turkey's defense is serious, but he thinks a solution can be found.

NATO officials are calling the disagreements within the alliance over whether to begin planning for Turkey's defense a crisis that could hurt the organization's credibility.

Turkey has made the unprecedented move of invoking Article 4 of NATO's founding treaty, which calls for consultations if an alliance member feels its security or territorial integrity is threatened.

Turkey, which is likely to be a launch pad for an attack against Iraq, is nervous that it could become the target of an Iraqi counter-strike.

NATO ambassadors are meeting to discuss the Turkish request after France, Germany and Belgium vetoed any move by the alliance to begin contingency planning for Turkey's defense in the event of war.

The three allies say such action would be premature, and would undermine efforts to find a peaceful solution to the Iraq crisis. The United States has called their action "inexcusable."

Secretary-General Robertson admits the impasse is serious. But he told reporters he thinks the 19-member alliance will come up with a solution. "This is undoubtedly a difficult situation. But allies have had differences before, and they will undoubtedly have more in the future. What matters is to arrive at a consensus, and I am confident that we will," Mr. Robertson said.

The Secretary-General said the problem is not one of substance, but of timing. "We are united in our commitment to the security of all NATO's members. The question is not 'if' but 'when' to begin the planning. We have a difficult issue in front of us. It is an issue, which concerns solidarity with one ally, Turkey. It is not related to any possible participation by NATO in a military operation against Iraq," he explained.

Turkey is seeking to downplay the situation, with Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis saying in Ankara that the deadlock is about timing and not the essence of the proposals aimed at protecting his country.

But there are doubts at alliance headquarters about French intentions. Some officials say France should be taken at its word that it wants to slow down what French diplomats say is the American rush to war. Other NATO officials are concerned that France may be moving to squeeze the United States out of European security issues.