Breakthrough in sight over Turks’ Nato veto

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Series Details Vol.7, No.21, 24.5.01, p1
Publication Date 24/05/2001
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Date: 24/05/01

By Simon Taylor

If Ankara accepts the deal, which spells out precisely how Turkey will be involved in planning operations, it could pave the way for the force to be operational by the end of this year.

Under the compromise put forward by the UK, the EU would provide a detailed step-by-step picture of how Turkey would be involved in an operation's pre-launch phase.

Although diplomats doubt the plan will be accepted before next week's meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Budapest, they are optimistic that a deal will be struck before President George W. Bush's visit to NATO headquarters on 13 June.

"Bush doesn't want to come if there's no solution because he doesn't want to spend all his time talking to [Turkish Prime Minister Bulent] Ecevit about this when he's here to talk about missile defence," said one.

But he said the deal would not give Turkey more powers than agreed at Nice: "The UK initiative does not suggest a renegotiation of Nice, but an amplification," he explained.

Diplomats said that the precise wording drawn up by London was so sensitive that it was only being distributed to national capitals and had not yet been formally discussed in Brussels. Nevertheless, they claimed that there was widespread support among Union states for the approach.

Ankara has been blocking a deal within NATO to grant the Union automatic access to the alliance's hardware, unless it is given the same rights as EU members over the pre-launch stage of an operation.

Nihat Akyol, Turkish ambassador to the EU, said that the UK solution would go further than that, giving Turkey the automatic right to take part in operations in its vicinity. "We're saying you take the decision to launch or not to launch, [but] if you do it in our neighbourhood with NATO assets Turkey should be invited to take part in that operation. How else can we ensure that our security concerns are being addressed?

"It's not to say that we want to sit at the same table or take part in decision-making, but we do need a decision which envisages Turkey's participation."

He said the UK is playing a facilitator role as a "friend and ally of Turkey", but hinted that such a deal might be difficult for some EU states to agree to - an indirect reference to Turkey's strained relations with Greece over Cyprus.

The Union needs a deal with NATO to meet its target for making the rapid reaction force operational by the end of this year. Although the 60,000-strong force, led by German general Rainer Schuwirth, is not due to have full capability until 2003, EU governments want it to handle 'lighter' tasks such as humanitarian duties before 2002.

Turkey's Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit recently expressed optimism about reaching a deal - but on the basis of a compromise drawn up by Ankara. "There are many who understand our position. I believe we will arrive at a solution that Turkey can stomach," he said.

The UK may be close to a breakthrough on ending Turkey's veto over the EU rapid reaction force's use of NATO assets.

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