- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 17, 2002

BRUSSELS NATO and the European Union yesterday sealed a cooperation pact that will allow EU peacekeepers to deploy for the first time, with Macedonia first in the 15-nation bloc's sights.

The accord was adopted in a joint declaration by NATO Secretary-General George Robertson and the European Union's high representative for foreign relations, Javier Solana.

"The EU-NATO declaration today is a vital milestone in the history of the NATO-EU strategic partnership," Mr. Robertson told reporters.

"What we've done today is to lay the foundation of a permanent framework from the European Union and NATO in support of peace and stability."

Mr. Solana said the NATO-enlargement summit in Prague last month and last week's EU summit in Copenhagen, which agreed to welcome 10 mostly ex-communist countries in 2004, had "changed the landscape of Europe."

"At the same time, today we have finalized a very important agreement between the European Union and NATO that will allow one of the most important projects that the European Union has now," said Mr. Solana, who led NATO before Mr. Robertson.

The long-awaited pact was agreed on Friday by EU leaders meeting in the Danish capital and by NATO, after pivotal alliance member Turkey overcame its objections despite failing to secure a firm date to begin EU-membership talks.

The deal had been agreed to in principle in October, but the EU's planned deployment of peacekeepers in Macedonia was postponed twice pending agreement with Turkey to share NATO resources, especially heavy-lift aircraft.

After Turkey finally gave the go-ahead, the EU said it was ready to send its troops into Macedonia "as soon as possible," probably in February, and was also willing to deploy soldiers in Bosnia-Herzegovina to replace NATO forces in both countries.

The EU-NATO declaration included a section outlining "respect for the principles of the Charter of the United Nations" and the obligation for one country not to indulge in unilateral military action.

Rivals Greece and Turkey held up the deal for months by seeking assurances that any EU peacekeeping force would not use NATO assets to meddle in the eastern Mediterranean, in particular on the divided island of Cyprus.

"It's very important that we bring together the particular concerns of Greece and Turkey in relation to the Aegean," the NATO chief added.

The dithering over deployment of peacekeeping forces has gone to the heart of the EU's faltering 3-year-old drive to build a common European security and defense policy.

France wanted the bloc to go it alone in Macedonia without using NATO resources, but other EU states, notably Britain, were pushing for a partnership with the U.S.-led military alliance.

But now with the NATO agreement in the bag, the EU can get planning seriously to replace the alliance's 900-strong force in the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia and eventually the NATO-led Stabilization Force in Bosnia.

The EU is also trying to put together next year a 60,000-strong rapid-reaction force that would be ready to tackle humanitarian and peacekeeping missions that NATO prefers not to join.

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