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NATO Approves Defense Preparations for Turkey - 2003-02-19

NATO has approved deploying surveillance aircraft, anti-missile systems, and chemical and biological response units to Turkey, which says it would be threatened in case of a U.S.-led war against Iraq. The decision ends one of the worst crises in the alliance's history.

It started last month, when the United States asked the alliance to make preparations for Turkey's defense in the event of war. Turkey is the only NATO ally that borders Iraq and could be used as a launching pad for a U.S.-led attack against that country. Turkey fears it could be the target of an Iraqi-counterstrike.

France, Germany, and Belgium blocked approval of the request, saying it would undermine diplomatic efforts to end the Iraq crisis peacefully.

The three allies continued to veto planning for Turkey's defense until last Sunday, when NATO Secretary-General George Robertson took the request off the table at the alliance's main political body and submitted it to the Defense Planning Committee.

France is not a member of that committee because it withdrew from NATO's integrated military structure in 1966.

Germany and Belgium still had to be satisfied, but they eventually agreed to let alliance planners proceed in exchange for a statement that NATO continues to support efforts in the United Nations to find a peaceful solution to the crisis.

Wednesday, the Defense Planning Committee made a second decision, this time to immediately deploy AWACS early warning aircraft and Patriot anti-missile systems to Turkey.

A statement from U.S. ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns said the move means NATO has lived up to its responsibility to respond to an ally in a time of threat.

It is unclear when the NATO-owned AWACS planes will leave their base in Germany, but an alliance official says it should not take more than two or three days to gather together their multinational crews.

The Netherlands has already begun shipping Patriot systems to Turkey. The anti-chemical and anti-biological warfare units will be delivered later.

Secretary-general Robertson said in an interview with eight European newspapers that the dispute over planning for Turkey's defense hurt NATO's credibility. But he said the alliance would recover.

The rift between 16 allies, including the United States, on one side, and France, Germany and Belgium on the other, has called into question the consensual method by which the alliance makes decisions. It has also underlined the isolation of France within NATO.

Alliance officials say it would have been better to have France aboard, but that the important thing was to end the delay that threatened to undermine the one-for-all, all-for-one principle that is NATO's reason for being.