NATO decision on support for US is blocked

John O'Neill johnfergaloneill at
Thu Jan 23 13:36:14 MST 2003

Interventions both eloquent and candid as NATO decision on support for US is

  NATO: France  and Germany yesterday blocked a decision by NATO on whether
to prepare supporting measures for any US-led war against Iraq, diplomats

"It was a pretty tough discussion," said one diplomat of the heated debate
among alliance ambassadors at NATO headquarters in Brussels.

"The arguments were flying. It's all about timing."

The US last week formally asked the 19-nation alliance to consider six
measures to provide indirect military assistance in case of a war with Iraq,
mainly to protect NATO ally Turkey against possible Iraqi attacks.

France and Germany have publicly opposed any rush to war and, along with
many other European allies - they were backed at the NATO meeting by Belgium
and Luxembourg - say UN weapons inspectors should be given more time to try
to disarm Iraq peacefully.

Diplomats said the allies were not opposed to the US requests in principle,
but were anxious not to appear to endorse military action before diplomatic
avenues had been exhausted.

"In principle all would be in favour of what's proposed, especially with
regard to looking after Turkey. My guess is the picture will change after
the 27th," one participant said, referring to next week's key report by
weapons inspectors to the United Nations.

Other NATO officials played down suggestions that the meeting was

"A number of the interventions were eloquent, others were pretty candid. But
people are just doing their work - it's diplomacy," said one. The US
proposals include defending Turkey's southern flank with Patriot missiles
and AWACS radar planes, as well as deploying patrol ships and minesweepers
in the region.

One proposal, which diplomats said was potentially problematic for Germany
because it is linked directly to military action, was the use of NATO
planning facilities to put together the right mix of forces for a campaign,
pooling equipment such as fighter planes and refuelling tankers.

The US has also suggested that NATO play a role in post-war humanitarian and
stability operations in Iraq.

Washington had hoped NATO would task its military planners early, partly to
put pressure on Baghdad to give up its alleged weapons of mass destruction
by showing that allies were ready to back their demands for disarmament with

Diplomats said that although the US had not set a deadline for a NATO
decision, it was keen to crank up what could be a lengthy planning process.

NATO invoked its Article V mutual defence clause immediately after the
attacks against the US on September 11th, 2001, but it was sidelined as
Washington responded militarily to Afghanistan with just a few allies. Its
exclusion fuelled concern in Europe about US unilateralism and raised
questions about the alliance's relevance for post-Cold War security threats.

Diplomats said the US was eager to ensure that, if it does go to war against
Iraq, NATO does not sit on the sidelines in a fresh crisis of self-doubt. -

© The Irish Times

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