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European rift widening over war on Iraq

THE BALTIMORE SUN

LONDON - France, Germany and Belgium yesterday blocked NATO efforts to begin planning to protect Turkey in case of a war with Iraq, prompting a public call for emergency consultations under the alliance's mutual defense treaty for the first time in its 53-year history.

The dispute will not leave Turkey without NATO protection, but the objections underscored deepening and increasingly bitter divisions over the confrontation with Iraq, not only between the United States and the three countries but within Europe itself.

Later in the day, the divide was widened further when Russia issued a joint statement with France and Germany opposing war plans and urging expanded weapons inspections instead, marking the first time since the end of the Cold War that the three nations have publicly aligned themselves against the United States.

The declaration was a clear signal that the United States faces tough diplomatic negotiations if it seeks a second United Nations resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq. All three countries are members of the U.N. Security Council, and France and Russia, as permanent members, have veto power.

France and Russia, along with China, have hinted that they might exercise that power. Britain, which has been leading a separate European faction in support of an aggressive stance against Iraq, is the only one of the five permanent members of the Security Council backing the United States.

In Washington, President Bush said the divide threatens NATO.

"Upset is not the proper word," Bush said. "I am disappointed that France is willing to block NATO from helping a country like Turkey to prepare."

Bush added, "I think it affects the alliance in a negative way when you're not able to make a statement of mutual defense."

France, Germany and Belgium are the only countries among NATO's 19 members that oppose the contingency planning, which requires unanimous consent to proceed. The countries had agreed last week to temporarily drop their opposition and take the weekend to consider the proposal. But one hour before the plans would have been set in motion automatically, France objected and was quickly joined by Belgium and then Germany.

That prompted Turkey to request the emergency consultations, which ended without resolution yesterday and were scheduled to resume today.

"The majority of the NATO countries reiterated the urgency for NATO to take a decision," said the alliance's secretary-general, Lord Robertson of Britain.

The proposal, crafted by the United States, would deploy Patriot missiles, AWACS surveillance planes, and defenses against chemical and biological weapons.

All three opposing countries said that they are committed to protecting Turkey as part of NATO's mutual defense pact. But in an effort to slow the momentum toward a war against Iraq, they have resisted strong U.S. pressure to allow the plans to proceed.

"It would signify that we have already entered into the logic of war, that ... any chance, any initiative to still resolve the conflict in a peaceful way was gone," Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel said yesterday in Brussels.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said at a news conference at the Pentagon that the United States and its allies would continue planning a defensive strategy for Turkey regardless of what NATO decides. Over the weekend, when it became apparent that there would be opposition, he called the action "disgraceful."

"There are 19 countries in NATO, so it's 16 to 3," he said yesterday. "I think it's a mistake. And what we have to do for the United States is make sure that that planning does go forward, preferably within NATO but, if not, bilaterally or multiple bilaterals. And we are already going about that task."

Lord Robertson said disagreements within NATO are "heated," but he stressed that all 19 members of the alliance would unite to protect Turkey if necessary.

"The question still is not if but when to begin the planning," he said. "I am not trying to minimize the issue. It is serious. The NATO nations take it seriously, hence the debate, and allies will act responsively and collectively."

Turkey has not formally asked for help, and NATO observers said France, Germany and Belgium could drop their objections once it does so. But their move was a retort to heavy pressure from the United States, which has lobbied for nearly a month to begin the military preparations.

Turkish officials downplayed the disagreement and said they were confident a consensus could be reached on the timing of mobilizing the NATO plan.

"They did not veto the protection of Turkey," Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis said in the capital, Ankara. "These countries have problems with the timing," he said, adding that the "problem can be overcome, because there is no disagreement on principle."

In Washington, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said NATO is legally obligated to assist Turkey. The alliance should make sure that Turkey "is not put at any risk," Powell said.

A spokesman said Britain's Tony Blair was "disappointed" by the action of France, Germany and Belgium, but that the prime minister is confident the disagreement will soon be resolved.

Turkey shares a 207-mile border with Iraq, and there are concerns that the country could be the target of a missile attack should war break out. The NATO alliance calls for all member nations to band together when one is attacked, and the move sought by the United States and others focuses on defensive measures.

Fred Ikle, a foreign policy specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said the dispute endangers NATO as an institution, as well as overall relations between the United States and France, Germany and Belgium.

"The risk is that in this intense disagreement, even if it comes more or less to a resolution everyone can live with, could leave a strong residue of distrust and an unwillingness to think together and to plan together in the future," he said. "That could lead to what people have warned about, the increasing irrelevance of NATO."

Robertson seemed to share that view, telling reporters: "The longer this dispute goes on, the worse it is going to be for the alliance."

France and Germany, joined by Russia, have shown no signs of wavering in their push to give U.N. inspectors more time before military force is used against Iraq. French President Jacques Chirac and Russian President Vladimir V. Putin held a news conference yesterday in Paris reiterating their call for more inspectors.

"We are against the war," Putin said. "At the moment, that's the view I have."

The French president said, "Nothing today justified a war," adding: "In my view, there's no indisputable proof" that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction.

Reading from a joint statement by the three countries, Chirac said that peaceful means of disarming Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein have not been exhausted. The statement was a stark illustration of shifting - if only temporary - alliances, with the United States increasingly distanced from three of Europe's biggest players.

"Russia, Germany and France are in favor of pursuing inspections with a substantial strengthening of human and technical capacity by all means and in consultation with the inspectors, within the limits of Resolution 1441," Chirac said.

That Security Council resolution, adopted unanimously in November, warns of "serious consequences" if Iraq does not disarm and cooperate with inspectors to account for its banned weapons programs. Chief U.N. inspector Hans Blix has said that Iraq is not cooperating fully, but he reported progress over the weekend.

Germany and France said they would offer an initiative to increase and strengthen inspections after Blix's report to the Security Council on Friday.

Christopher Hellman, an analyst with the conservative Cato Institute in Washington, said that Germany and France have never before banded together with Russia publicly in the post-Cold War world.

"Germany and France are looking for ways to get around NATO and the influence the United States has over it, and, make no mistake, the United States has always tried to control NATO," he said. "For the Russians, they're only too happy to drive a wedge into NATO, which the United States has made clear it won't be a part of."

Dana Allin, senior fellow for trans-Atlantic relations at the Institute for International Strategic Studies in London, said the more immediate repercussions of shifting alliances and the public spats between allies may be an inability for the United States to pass a second resolution in the Security Council that would authorize the use of military force against Iraq.

"The whole thing has obviously made the Americans furious, and American fury has in turn increased French and German anger, so this is a serious crisis," Allin said.

"Some Americans are trying to make the argument that we have a whole alliance that's not France and Germany," Allin said. "But the fact is, an alliance without France and Germany literally has a big hole in it."

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