NEWS

Turkey looks for EU defense role

ANKARA – Turkey and Britain have made progress in talks to resolve a dispute hampering the creation of a European Union rapid reaction force but a final deal remains uncertain, diplomats said yesterday. An agreement to grant the EU assured access to vital NATO assets and planning facilities for European military operations now hinges on a political decision by Turkey’s military and civilian leaders in the coming week, a senior EU diplomat said. Turkey, which is a member of the 19-nation NATO alliance but only a longer-term candidate for EU membership, is concerned it could be excluded from decision-making on European crisis management that may affect its security interests. Diplomats said British Foreign Office political director Peter Ricketts assured Ankara in talks on Monday that the 60,000-strong EU force, due to be fully operational by mid-2003, would not be used in any crisis involving Cyprus or the Aegean Sea. But Turkey did not win the right to participate in any EU military operation, even if it did not involve NATO assets – seen by EU governments as an effective right of veto. The Turks have been left with a decision to take on whether to accept the results, particularly on the outstanding issue of participation by Turkey in EU operations, the EU diplomat said. [Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem, after a meeting of the Turkey-EU parliamentary commission in Istanbul on Monday told reporters that some progress had been achieved, Agence France-Presse reported. On certain issues mutual steps were taken… some significant steps… We also managed to ensure certain proximity on technical and military issues, but there are also issues on which we could not reach sufficient proximity, AFP quoted the minister as saying. Cem went on to declare that Turkey is not deviating from the resolution… The side that is not complying is the EU, which at the Nice summit outlined its own conditions, ignoring NATO’s decision.] EU leaders and the United States are expected to lobby hard over the next few days to persuade Ankara to strike a deal. Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, whose country holds the EU’s rotating presidency, was due in Ankara for a brief visit yesterday and Turkish media have said US Secretary of State Colin Powell will visit Turkey next week on his way to a NATO foreign ministers’ meeting that could seal an agreement. First elements of the rapid reaction force are due to be declared operational at an EU summit in Brussels next month, with or without a deal with Turkey. EU officials have warned Ankara it could forfeit EU good will and encourage those member states who want to develop a military planning machinery separate from NATO if it sticks to its guns. Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Uguz Ziyal, who led the Turkish delegation, told the semi-official Anatolia news agency areas of disagreement remain but some progress had been made. We will brief the relevant authorities but we have agreed not to release the contents of the talks. The talks were well-intentioned, the agency quoted him as saying. Ziyal said talks continued. But EU diplomats said no further negotiations were planned and Turkey now had to make a decision. Experts said the EU could give Turkey extra assurance by reviving wording used in 1995 when Greece joined the Western European Union (WEU), a defense grouping now part of the EU. At the time, WEU members pledged that mutual security guarantees under the NATO and WEU treaties would not be invoked in disputes between member states of either organization. EU officials say the dispute is more about theory – and Turkish national pride – than practice. In reality, the Europeans would be extremely unlikely to undertake any military mission not approved by the United States, NATO’s dominant superpower. It is hard to imagine Turkey seeking to veto any operation that had US backing, they say. Turkish officials convey a sense of injustice that a staunch NATO ally with substantial armed forces, should be shut out of EU decision-making.