- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 6, 2003

BRUSSELS, Belgium, Feb. 6 (UPI) — NATO ambassadors meeting in Brussels Thursday failed to strike a deal on how to defend Turkey in the case of an Iraqi attack after France, Germany and Belgium continued to insist that planning for war was premature while weapons inspections continued.

At the end of what he termed a “robust debate,” the alliance’s secretary-general, George Robertson, said: “There is complete agreement among the NATO countries about their commitment to defend Turkey…Where there has been a disagreement is over when to formally task this military planning.”

The United States made a formal request for the alliance’s 19 members to open their airspace and military bases to U.S. forces on Jan. 15. Washington also tabled a raft of measures, such as deploying surveillance planes and surface-to-air missiles, aimed at protecting Turkey if the predominantly Muslim state is attacked by its neighbor Iraq.

France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg blocked the move on Jan. 22 and Jan. 29, although officials indicated Luxembourg has since lifted its objections.

Despite the North Atlantic Council’s third setback in as many weeks, Robertson said he remained “confident” an agreement could be reached Monday.

In a bid to increase pressure on the three countries to back down, NATO ambassadors Thursday invoked the “silence procedure.” This means that if no state formally objects to the measures proposed to the United States by 6 a.m. ET Monday, the package will automatically be adopted.

It remains unclear, however, whether staunchly anti-war countries, such as Belgium, will drop their opposition to contingency planning.

“It is premature to take a decision now already about the possible involvement of NATO in the Iraq crisis,” Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel said Thursday. “The United Nations road must continue to be followed with the view to a diplomatic and peaceful solution.”

In a separate move, the Turkish parliament Thursday gave the United States the green light to renovate its military bases and ports ahead of a possible war with Iraq. Although Ankara has traditionally opposed the use of military force to disarm Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, the vote is being seen as the first signal that Turkey could back Washington in the event of a second Gulf conflict.

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