- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 11, 2003

WASHINGTON, Feb. 11 (UPI) — The White House Tuesday again criticized France, Germany and Belgium for blocking NATO military aid to fellow member Turkey, but said also said it believed the "serious setback" to alliance unity would be overcome with "logic and diplomacy."

The United States, it said, would continue to be "strong and persistent" in ensuring Turkey has the military protection it needs should it be attacked by neighboring Iraq for backing a forceful disarmament of Saddam Hussein's regime.

"It's not only a setback for NATO, a setback that the president believes will be overcome, but it's a real setback for Turkey and the people of Turkey," spokesman Ari Fleischer said.

"And you don't have to search very hard to look in the Turkish press this morning, or press around Europe, to see that these three nations have invited a significant amount of criticism upon themselves; they have succeeded in distancing themselves from our good and worthy ally in Turkey, at a time when Turkey needs to have individual nations of NATO and NATO collectively stand up on their behalf."

France, Germany and Belgium on Monday vetoed proposed help to Turkey to defend against Iraqi missile attacks or attacks with chemical and biological weapons. Earlier in the month, they had twice stalled a vote by NATO providing aid to the United States in the event of military action against Iraq.

Turkey, which has given a nod to U.S. forces using its territory in the event of war with Iraq, fears military retaliation by Baghdad.

Monday's vote threw the organization, which operates under a doctrine of consensus, into an uproar. Turkey has now invoked Article IV of the mutual defense organization's charter, calling for all countries to debate and decide on aid to a fellow member state that feels threatened. The invocation was the first in the 53-year history of the alliance, which was formed to counter the post World War II threat of the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact.

Ironically, those former Warsaw Pact nations that are now part of NATO — Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, for example — support the U.S. position that Iraq poses a grave threat and must be disarmed of suspected weapons of mass destruction with or without U.N. sanction.

A second emergency session of NATO was to be held Tuesday afternoon in Belgium, where NATO is headquartered, but was put off as alliance diplomats continued with a flurry of meetings to try resolve what is seen as the most serious fissure in alliance unity ever.

In November, NATO as a whole voted to take effective action to assure Iraq's compliance with U.N. Security Council resolution mandating its full cooperation with weapons inspections and complete disarmament of weapons of mass destruction.

President George W. Bush has called the veto "disappointing." France, which leads the anti-war group in NATO, was being "short-sighted," he said.

The White House Tuesday, while not downplaying the problem within NATO, also stressed the vote should be kept in perspective. "Make no mistake, NATO consists of 19 nations; 16 are pleased to help Turkey as Turkey invokes its Article IV rights under NATO."

"Nevertheless, the president does believe that in the appropriate matter of time, NATO will fix itself, will right itself, and that these three nations that are blocking 16 nations will, through logic and through good diplomacy, see the merits of Turkey's request," Fleischer said.

A reported plan by France, Germany and Russia — still to be formally presented — calls for a tripling of U.N. weapons inspectors in Iraq and possibly even a U.N. peacekeeping force to protect them.

The United States argues the question with Iraq on disarmament is not more inspectors, but its cooperation with them. Washington says Baghdad's cooperation with inspectors has not been complete as promised. Iraq, Washington says, has not accounted for weapons of mass destruction known to have been in its possession, and has continued for the past 11 years to play a cat-and-mouse game with the United Nations.

The purported French and German proposal is "off the mark," Fleischer said, "and a non-starter."

Analysts believe the NATO vote could undermine U.S. efforts to gain a Security Council resolution authorizing Saddam's forcible disarmament.

France carries the power to veto Security Council measures. China and Russia, which also oppose military action, also hold veto powers on the council. Britain, another veto-wielding member of the body, supports the U.S. position.

Under U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441, passed unanimously in November following intense U.S. lobbying, Iraq was judged in material breach of previous U.N. mandates and had to cooperate fully with inspectors to avoid unspecified "serious consequences." Washington says a second resolution to authorize force if necessary is not needed, but it will pursue it anyway with the understanding that if the council fails to endorse force, Washington and allies would go it alone.

When asked Tuesday about the prospect that a Security Council vote would not support the United States, Fleischer urged caution before making predictions of failure.

"Keep your powder dry," he said. "The president is going to continue to talk to leaders around the world, and he believes the call will be answered."

More than 130,000 U.S. troops are in the Gulf or on the way in case of conflict with Iraq.

Despite increasing tension and strain between Paris and Washington, the White House Tuesday continued to argue that the "spat" was temporary and would not affect long-term relations.

As for a rising tide of anti-Americanism among Europeans, it noted the massive anti-American protests of the early 1980s over cruise missile deployments did not sink American-European relations.

" … The fact though remains, in the end, because we are all democracies and because democracies are entitled every now and then to a good spat, this will all pass over and we will all remain as allies," Fleischer said.

"Not everybody may be there through every stage of the process, but the president is confident that in the end, even amidst our differences with a couple — perhaps three, maybe two, maybe one — that we will remain an alliance, that we will remain unified and that in the end, Saddam Hussein will be disarmed thanks to the collective will of all."

In other developments Tuesday, Bush spoke by telephone with British Prime Minister Tony Blair about Iraq and diplomatic efforts to gain a second U.N. resolution against Baghdad, which would authorize forcible disarmament of the country.

Bush also spoke to the presidents of the Philippines and Angola, which is currently a non-permanent member of the Security Council.

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