- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 23, 2001

From combined dispatches
ANTALYA, Turkey Defense ministers from southeastern Europe pledged stronger cooperation against terrorism and voiced their support for the U.S.-fight against terror last week as tensions simmered under the polite surface.
The moves came at a meeting of Balkan and southeast European defense ministers here to discuss the war on terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and border security. The ministers agreed to set up a working group on combating terrorism.
The ministers also decided to strengthen a multinational force that will conduct peacekeeping missions in the Balkans. The countries initiated the project in May, but the force has not yet been deployed.
"Defense ministers fully agreed on the fact that terrorist activities cannot be accepted in any way," they said in a joint statement supporting the U.S.-led anti-terrorism campaign launched after the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington.
Turkey's defense minister, Sabahattin Cakmakoglu, said the attacks served as a "severe warning" to European countries.
Turkey has fully backed the U.S.-led campaign and was the first Muslim country to offer troops for Afghanistan, though it remains deeply concerned over suggestions that the war could spread to its southern neighbor, Iraq. Turkey served as the launching pad for attacks against Iraq during the 1991 Persian Gulf war.
Mr. Cakmakoglu said the issue was not discussed during Thursday's meeting.
Jack D. Crouch, assistant U.S. secretary of defense for international security affairs, stressed Washington's objectives are centered on the elimination of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist network.
Meanwhile, Balkan leaders said they were disturbed by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's proposal on Tuesday that NATO cut its forces in Bosnia by up to a third.
Countries such as Macedonia fear the new U.S. policy could hurt long-term stability in the region. NATO is leading nearly 60,000 troops in three separate military operations, in Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia.
Mr. Crouch said NATO has yet to decide on Mr. Rumsfeld's proposals.
"We reiterate our position that we will go in together and out together; consequently, the decision will be taken by NATO," Mr. Crouch said.
Among those at the meeting were defense ministers and representatives from Albania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Greece, Romania, Ukraine, Italy, Croatia and Slovenia.
At the same meeting, Greece refused to change its mind on its decision to block a key military cooperation agreement between the European Union and NATO.
"Greece will not agree to any arrangements which violate its principles," Greek Defense Minister Yannos Papantoniou said.
Athens blocked the EU-NATO agreement at a summit of European leaders last weekend in Laeken, Belgium, threatening to hobble the European Union's future security and defense ambitions.
Greece's initial objections were vague, saying only that "very important issues" were involved. But EU observers have pointed to the country's long-running feud with Turkey over the divided Mediterranean island of Cyprus.
Turkey invaded the island in 1974 in response to an Athens-engineered military coup seeking to unite Cyprus with Greece.
Both countries are members of NATO. Turkey, however, is not a member of the European Union but wants to be.
The accord is vital to the EU's fledgling defense force because it would allow access to NATO's huge strategic and logistical resources, including radar planes and planning teams, essential to long-range, long-term missions.
The deal had, in fact, previously been blocked by Turkey for more than a year. Ankara, fearing it was being sidelined from EU defense plans, had been using its NATO veto to block alliance support for the European force.
Turkey ended its objections after hammering out a compromise with the European Union this month, obtaining assurances from the 15-member bloc that the group would not involve itself in possible disputes between two NATO countries a reference to Turkey and Greece.
But Athens then said it did not agree with the compromise and wanted it amended. Mr. Papantoniou repeated Greek objections to the deal on Thursday: "The arrangements should not affect the exercise of sovereign rights by any state."
He did, however, claim the problem was not one between Greece and Turkey: "It's a question related to the functioning of the EU. It's a completely European matter."

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