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NATO Remains Deadlocked Over Defense of Turkey - 2003-02-10

NATO has again failed to break a deadlock over whether the alliance should begin planning to defend Turkey in case of a war against Iraq.

France, Germany, and Belgium say they want to slow down what a Belgian diplomat calls the "rush to war" by the United States. He says allowing NATO's military planners to draw up contingency plans for Turkey's defense at this time would mean the alliance has accepted that war is inevitable.

The three countries have blocked a U.S. request to begin preparing for Turkey's defense for three weeks. They say any such moves are premature as long as there is a chance for a diplomatic solution to the Iraq crisis.

Turkey asked NATO to invoke Article 4 of its founding treaty, which calls for consultations if any of the 19 members of the alliance feels its sovereignty or territorial integrity is threatened.

NATO Secretary General George Robertson says it is clear Turkey has legitimate concerns and that the threat to its security from Iraq is real.

Mr. Robertson took pains to emphasize that none of the allies disputes the need to plan for Turkey's defense. The question they disagree on, he says, is the timing of when to begin such planning.

"The question is not 'if' but 'when' to begin the planning," he said. "We have a difficult issue in front of us. It is an issue that concerns solidarity with one ally, Turkey. It is not related to any possible participation by NATO in a military operation against Iraq."

Turkey also downplayed the divisions at NATO headquarters, saying the dispute is only over timing and not substance.

But U.S. Ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns says the alliance faces a crisis of credibility because of the actions of France, Germany, and Belgium.

NATO officials say failure to respond to Turkey's request to develop a plan to enhance its defenses will strike a blow to the alliance's commitment to rally to the defense of any ally who is perceived to be under threat of an attack.

The ambassadors are to meet again Tuesday to try to resolve the deadlock. Secretary General Robertson says the longer the dispute goes on, the worse it is going to be for the alliance and its members.