UK tries to end Turkey-EU impasse

BRUSSELS – Britain will try this week to break a deadlock between Turkey and the European Union which is hampering efforts to build a European rapid reaction force for military crisis management. A senior British official was to hold talks in Ankara with Turkish civilian and military policymakers yesterday, aimed at overcoming Turkey’s objection to granting the EU assured access to NATO assets and planning facilities for European military operations. The mission by Foreign Office political director Peter Ricketts is billed as the last chance to crack the problem before the 15 EU leaders declare the first elements of their future force operational next month. The good news is the Turkish general staff are in the talks and engaging, whereas they stood aside from previous diplomatic efforts in May, a senior EU diplomat said. However, other diplomats say that in the changed strategic situation since September 11, the Turks feel the United States needs their support so badly in Afghanistan that it will not pressure Turkey to yield to the Europeans. Diplomats say Turkey, a candidate for EU membership but not likely to join for at least a decade, is demanding an effective right of veto over EU crisis management operations in what it regards as its security space – a vague concept. Turkish officials say Ankara seeks a guaranteed right to participate in any and all such EU military operations. The EU says this would be tantamount to letting Turkey veto missions of its 60,000-strong crisis management force, due to be fully operational – that is, ready to be deployed within 60 days in and around Europe – by mid-2003. Diplomats say Ricketts’s task is to provide Ankara with satisfactory assurances of consultation and involvement in EU security policy without granting the Turks a veto over any European action. They say Britain has US backing for its mediation effort, but it is not clear how strongly Washington is prepared to press its strategic NATO ally on the issue. Turkish Defense Minister Sabahattin Cakmakoglu said in Brussels last week that Ankara was adopting a flexible and imaginative stance ahead of the talks, but he was noncommittal on its outcome. Other non-EU members of the Western alliance are in favor of granting free access to the EU force. Turkey argues that 11 of NATO’s 17 threat scenarios are in its area, giving it special security responsibility and making its involvement in case-by-case decision-making on the use of alliance assets by the EU indispensable. Diplomats said Turkey also fears that an EU military force could be used against its interests, for example in Cyprus. The two sides came close to settling the dispute last May but Turkish sources said the influential general staff vetoed a tentative deal worked out by Foreign Minister Ismail Cem. Keen to lower the stakes in yesterday’s talks, EU officials are now saying the absence of a deal would be a handicap, but not a show stopper, for the European defense initiative. An agreement on EU-NATO ties might help defuse a looming crisis between Brussels and Ankara over the prospect of Cyprus concluding negotiations next year to join the Union. Turkey, which invaded the East Mediterranean island in 1974 in response to a short-lived pro-Greek coup in Nicosia, has threatened to annex the northern third of Cyprus it occupies if the EU admitted a divided island. Meanwhile, Agence France-Presse reported from Ankara yesterday that US Secretary of State Colin Powell is to meet with Turkish officials in Turkey next week over the war in Afghanistan, the European rapid reaction force and other international issues. The agency, quoting a government source who declined to be named, reported that Powell’s two-day visit to Turkey will start on December 4 – part of a European tour – and he is expected to meet with his Turkish counterpart Ismail Cem and Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit. The talks are likely to focus on the anti-terrorist campaign in Afghanistan, in which Turkey, the only predominantly Muslim country in NATO, has emerged as a key ally for the United States, the official said. Another important topic on the agenda would be Turkey’s opposition to the European Union’s plans to establish a rapid reaction force with direct access to NATO assets, he said. The sides were also to take up the longstanding division of Cyprus with Powell’s visit coinciding with a landmark meeting between the island’s Turkish and Greek-Cypriot leaders, scheduled to meet face-to-face on December 4 in Nicosia for the first time in four years.

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