- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 5, 2002

BRUSSELS Top NATO and European Union officials are scrambling to resolve an angry dispute between Greece and Turkey that is blocking EU efforts to establish a Rapid Reaction Force and has already derailed EU plans to take over the peacekeeping role in Macedonia.
The Bush administration is also involved, since the most likely possible compromise would require a commitment from the Pentagon to reassure both Greeks and Turks that their strategic interests will not be compromised.
NATO sources told United Press International that the compromise is seen as the only hope of settling the dispute in time to let the European Union take over the Macedonian mission, but it could still be blocked by internal politics in both Greece and Turkey.
The main problem is that while both Greece and Turkey are members of the NATO alliance, only Greece is a member of the European Union. Even though Turkey has been formally accepted as a candidate for EU membership, a long accession process of at least a decade lies ahead.
By next year, the European Union is supposed to be buttressing its vaunted new Common Foreign and Security Policy with its own military arm.
The Rapid Reaction Force of 60,000 troops is capable of being deployed for up to a year at a time and designed mainly for peacekeeping rather than war-fighting missions. It is to be backed up by an EU naval task force of 15 warships, and an air force of 15 squadrons should be operational next year.
That target date and operational duties for the foreseeable future can only be met by borrowing NATO assets.
The European Union lacks the intelligence, logistical, communications and support facilities required to put and keep that many troops in the field.
And while NATO has agreed in principle to do this, thus allow the EU force to take over peacekeeping tasks in the Balkans, any such loan or transfer of assets requires unanimous support by NATO members.
Turkey is refusing to go along, demanding a veto on a case- by-case basis on the loan of NATO assets for EU missions.
Officially, Turkey says it fears that the European Union could be undertaking operations in the Aegean Sea or the Balkans that could damage Turkish interests.
Unofficially, Turkey is reminding the European Union of the leverage power its NATO membership provides not least over the issue of Cyprus, divided for almost 30 years between the Greek Cypriot south and the Turkish north.
The Cyprus issue could yet hold up the planned EU enlargement into Eastern Europe. Greece says it will block enlargement unless Cyprus is brought into the European Union next year, regardless of whether the dispute between the Greek and Turkish halves of the island is resolved.
Britain, one of the NATO countries with closest ties to Turkey, last year hammered out a compromise known as the Ankara document, under which Turkey would lift its ban on the transfer of NATO assets to the European Union. In return, Turkey would receive a written document promising that while Turkey would not have a blanket veto on EU operations, NATO would guarantee that Turkish interests were never infringed.
Greece then refused to accept the Ankara document, which it claimed was unfair in giving Turkey a unique status within NATO.
Greece has persuaded Spain, currently holding the rotating EU presidency, to redraft the text of the Ankara document in a way that gives the Greeks the same special guarantees as the Turks.
If the Pentagon gives its blessing to the new text, NATO sources said that NATO Secretary-General George Robertson and the top EU diplomat, Javier Solana, are prepared to exchange formal letters spelling out the deal and its special guarantees, in time for a resolution at the EU summit this month in Spain.

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