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France, Germany, Belgium Block NATO Assistance to Turkey

Belgium, supported by Germany and France, led the opposition to NATO support for Turkey, a move that may have repercussions for the powerful Cold War-era alliance. Turkey, Iraq’s northern neighbor and a U.S. ally, has agreed to open its bases for possible U.S. operations against Saddam Hussein’s regime.

The three opposing NATO members said that voting to deploy military aid to Turkey would signal that military operations were underway, and argued against a “rush to war.”

Turkey protested the move to block the aid by invoking Article 4 of the NATO charter, which calls for emergency consultations on mutual defense when a member nation is threatened.

The New York Times reported that Turkey’s foreign minister, Yasar Yakis, said the problem was simply a matter of timing and that “these difficulties can be overcome because in fact there is no divergence on the essence of the problem.”

Secretary of State Colin Powell said NATO has an obligation under its charter to aid a member nation that feels threatened.

The U.S. and 15 other NATO members support deploying anti-missile and anti-chemical weapons equipment and personnel to Turkey. Belgium, Germany, and France are opposed.

Nicholas Burns, the U.S. ambassador to NATO said the move to block aid to Turkey is a “most unfortunate decision by three allies to prevent NATO from assisting the legitimate defense needs of Turkey.”

U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld called the veto of military aid a “disgrace,” but said the dispute among NATO members would not threaten the organization’s long-term survival. Rumsfeld said plans to provide Turkey with support and equipment would go forward outside the NATO umbrella if necessary.

Attempts to resolve the dispute at an emergency session on Monday were unsuccessful.

In Brussels, NATO Secretary-General George Robertson said Turkey’s concerns are legitimate and member nations are engaged in ongoing talks aimed at breaking the impasse.

“I am confident that if people look at the serious implications of not getting a decision then that will, I hope, give an impetus to providing a solution and getting a consensus,” Robertson said.

Meanwhile, political maneuvering continued at the U.N. with Germany and France proposing to triple the number of arms inspectors in Iraq, and deploy reconnaissance planes and U.N. peacekeeping troops.

On Monday, France, Germany, and Russia released a joint statement of support for the proposal.

“All possibilities of the resolution must be explored and that still leaves a lot of room for maneuver[ing] to achieve the goal of eliminating any weapons of mass destruction that Iraq may possess. On this issue, I do not have undisputed proof,” French President Jacques Chirac said in a joint press conference with Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

The Bush administration moved swiftly to oppose the plan.

“The issue is not more inspectors. The issue is compliance on the part of Saddam Hussein,” Powell said in a Sunday television interview. He said tripling the number of inspectors would only mean that three times as many U.N. employees could witness Iraq’s continued non-compliance.

The Washington Post reported that U.S. officials were livid after the German defense minister refused to talk to Rumsfeld about the plan when he brought it up in a meeting on Sunday.

President Bush continued to push the Security Council to meet soon to make a final decision on Iraq. Administration officials have said they would welcome a new resolution authorizing force, but are prepared to move forward without it.

Meanwhile, Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, the leaders of the U.N.’s inspection teams, reported mixed results from continued meetings with the Iraqi regime.

Blix said, however, that Iraq seems to be taking the inspection process more seriously, while ElBaradei said the inspectors would expect to be given more time by the U.N. Security Council if progress is being made. Blix and ElBaradei are expected to make a report to the council on Friday.

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