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Turkey to Bring Concern Over Missile Defense to NATO Meeting

As NATO heads of government converge on Lisbon for the 28-nation meeting, analysts say Turkey's concerns over NATO's missile defense plans may threaten unity at the summit. The analysts see the issue as an important test of Ankara's allegiances.

This week the Turkish President Abdullah Gul warned Turkey is still at odds with its NATO partners over a proposed missile-defense program and wants its position considered.

"Certainly there are points that we want to see adopted," he said. In order to see them accommodated, he says he wrote the presidents of the NATO countries and to the general secretary and clearly outlined Turkey's position.

Turkey has also expressed concern over NATO singling out Iran as a threat to the alliance. Turkish diplomats believe Ankara would undermine its regional influence if it backed a document singling out Iran.

But in consideration of Turkey's concerns, NATO's secretary-general Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Wednesday there is no need for NATO to specify Iran as a threat. He said by focusing on Iran, the allies would put Turkey on the front line in a new cold war.

Turkey's Islamic-rooted government has in the past few years rapidly developed strong political and economic ties with Tehran.

Bahcesehir University political scientist Cengiz Aktar says the missile defense program is viewed by Turkey's Western allies as a test of its allegiances. "Turkey has been challenged by the U.S. and the alliance, because recently the Turkish government's warm relations with Iran and demonstrated its commitment with Iran by the 'No' vote on the [U.N.] Security Council. So that created lots of problems within the alliance. Now Turkey has to prove whether it is still an actor and player within the alliance," Aktar said.

Last July's U.N. Security Council vote by Turkey against new Iranian sanctions over its suspected nuclear weapons program, raised questions in the capitals of its Western allies, especially in Washington. Concern had already been expressed in the United States over the collapse of relations between Turkey and Israel.

The annual E.U. progress report published this month, also stressed the importance of Turkey following a similar foreign policy line as the European Union. It was widely interpreted as a veiled reference to Turkey's "No" vote at the security council.

Analysts see Turkey playing a key role in a missile defense system. Earlier this month, U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry visited Ankara to press Washington's case for Turkish cooperation. Even though he put a positive spin on the talks, he admitted little progress had been made.

"I am convinced by the time we get to Lisbon, I am very confident that we will all be on the same page and be able to move ahead very constructively," Kerry said.

But Turkish Prime Minster Recep Tayyip Erdogan this week made more demands on NATO for Turkish participation.

There is the issue of who will be given control of the system. He says if it is thought to be on Turkish territories, then it should be definitely handed to Turkey. Otherwise, he says it is not possible for Turkey to accept such a deal.

The Lisbon summit is expected to see hours of tough negotiations, with no guarantee of success. Professor Aktar says Turkey is more than capable of walking away from the negotiation table. "Of course Turkey can say 'No.' They have said no already in the security council in New York. But that will not of course impede the alliance to go ahead and install the missile shield elsewhere. But it will create tremendous tensions with the remaining 27 members of the alliance, not to mention Israel," Aktar said.

Analysts say the close of the NATO summit is likely to result in support for the program in principle, but the question of Turkey's participation is likely to be postponed.