NATO ambassadors will meet again Wednesday after failing for the second day in a row to break an impasse over whether the alliance should begin planning for the defense of Turkey in the event of a war in Iraq. NATO officials are calling the deadlock one of the worst crises in the history of the 54-year-old alliance.
All day long, the ambassadors were consulting with each other at NATO headquarters, and with their capitals, to try to find a way out of the crisis. They later met formally behind closed doors, but failed to come up with a solution to a dispute that has sparked a deep rift among the allies.
On one side are France, Germany and Belgium. They have continued to block the alliance from initiating contingency planning to protect Turkey in case it is attacked by Iraq.
On the other side are the United States and the other 15 allies who say NATO has an obligation to move now to prepare to protect a member that considers its security is under threat.
On Monday, Turkey, the only NATO member to share a border with Iraq, formally asked its allies to help bolster its defenses because it believes its sovereignty and territorial integrity are threatened.
France, Germany and Belgium say they support Turkey but that this is the wrong time to initiate military planning for its defense. They argue that, as long as diplomatic efforts are being made to find a peaceful solution to the Iraq crisis, NATO should not place itself on a war footing.
The United States and the other 15 allies argue that the refusal by France, Germany and Belgium to let planning begin now for Turkey's defense undermines the one-for-all and all-for-one principle of the alliance. They accuse the three holdouts of severely damaging NATO's credibility.
The dispute comes at a bad time for NATO, which has sought to transform itself from a Cold War alliance into a force that can confront terrorism, rogue states and other 21st Century threats.
The rift within the alliance also comes at a bad time for the Bush administration because it could undermine U.S. efforts to seek support in the United Nations Security Council for military action against Iraq. Germany is currently the president of the Council. France wields a veto, and so does Russia, which joined France and Germany Monday in a statement calling for the strengthening of weapons inspections in Iraq before any military action is contemplated.
The NATO ambassadors will reconvene Wednesday morning to try to hammer out a consensus. But a French diplomat says his government prefers to wait until Friday, when the chief U.N. weapons inspectors report to the Security Council, before even considering any change in its position.