Turkey and NATO’s ongoing disagreement over how relations between the alliance and the European Union should best be formulated will be a key issue at the upcoming NATO summit, Turkish President Abdullah Gül said Friday.
“For us, this issue [of NATO-EU ties] will constitute one of the most controversial issues of this summit,” Gül told reporters before departing for Lisbon, accompanied by Turkey’s foreign and defense ministers, to attend the NATO summit in the Portuguese capital.
Twenty-eight NATO members are meeting Friday and Saturday to discuss key issues facing the alliance, including establishing an anti-ballistic missile shield over Europe to protect NATO members on the continent, unveiling a new “strategic concept,” reforming the alliance and planning a timetable for the withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Though the missile shield has been particularly controversial, the debate over NATO-EU relations will be even more crucial, Gül said. A non-EU member of NATO, Turkey is asking for equal rights and a say in EU-led military operations that will make use of NATO assets and command facilities, basing its position on the “Berlin Plus” formula laid out in 2002. The fundamental reason for this strict stance is Greek Cyprus’ veto on Turkey’s participation in the European Defense Agency.
NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen has tried to find a middle way to resolve the problem, which stands as the major factor obstructing the European Union’s development of its own functioning military pillar, but his efforts have fallen short.
“We want the continuation of the 2002 agreement. I am going to Lisbon to attend the NATO summit, not the EU summit. I want to underline this,” Gül said. “The solidarity to be shown by all NATO members, to this end, is very important. We are very sensitive about this.”
Other than Turkey, Norway, the United States and Canada, all NATO allies are also EU members, something Ankara says makes discussions at the alliance difficult for Turkey.
Missile shield agreement
Speaking to a small group of journalists who flew to Lisbon on his official plane, Gül said Turkey had been studying the matter of the proposed missile shield carefully for a long time. “We have foreseen the questions that this project could have raised, and we worked with our NATO allies to reach an understanding,” he said.
The Turkish president added that Turkey has come to “a very similar concept,” especially with its key ally, the United States.
Although it has been predicted that the missile shield debate will dominate the summit, diplomats and experts agreed that members of the alliance would reach a compromise one way or the other.
“We are close to an agreement,” Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, who is accompanying Gül on the trip to Lisbon, told daily Radikal on Thursday.
Speaking in a similar vein, Gül said Turkey was ready to contribute to the decision-making process without highlighting Ankara’s conditions. Diplomats said the summit was expected to produce a framework outlining the principles on the missile shield without detailing its technical requirements.
“Turkey makes decisions on this matter firstly based on its national interests and then in the framework of alliance solidarity,” Gül said, adding that Ankara’s views were already known by all NATO members and expressing his optimism that Turkey’s views would be approved by NATO. One of the conditions set by Turkey is that the proposed missile shield not be pointed at any particular country as a target, an open reference to its neighbor Iran, which is suspected of developing nuclear warheads.
Turkey has made it clear since the very beginning of the work on the missile shield that it will never approve targeting a single country, whether it is Iran or another country, Gül said.
“Many countries possess these ballistic missiles and there could be some other countries that could develop them in the future. Therefore [what is discussed] is a defense system against these missiles,” the Turkish president said.
The joint meetings with the European Union have been a particular concern for Turkey about this NATO summit. “When the NATO-EU agreement first came in 2002, we fully supported it,” Gül said. “But then, in 2004, [Greek Cyprus] was admitted to the EU, leaving [Turkish Cyprus] in limbo.”
Since that date, Turkey has been critical of the European Union on the issue, and has steadfastly refused to recognize Greek Cyprus.
“We can’t accept [Greek Cyprus] joining any formal NATO meeting,” said Foreign Minister Davutoğlu.
Hürriyet Daily News