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Turkey's relationship with west on the line in European missile defence negotiations

Turkey's government has been told that its relationship with the West could be seriously damaged if it rejects Nato's request to house part of a £165 million ballistic missile-defence shield that is being built to protect Europe from nuclear attack.

29 Oct 2010

Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state and Robert Gates, the US secretary of defence, have held out the warning in behind-the-scenes talks with Turkish officials ahead of a Nato summit to be held in Lisbon on November 19, where a final decision is expected to be made on the missile-defence plan.

"Essentially we've told Turkey that missile-defence is an acid test of its commitment to the collective security arrangements it has with its western allies," a senior US official told The Daily Telegraph.

Nato's missile-defence programme is designed to protect Europe's population from nuclear-armed missiles the West fears Iran may acquire in coming years. The plans involve radar stations that can detect ballistic missile launches, and advanced interceptor missiles which can shoot them down.

Turkey is critical to the project, since its geographical location means radar sited on its soil will be able to detect Iranian ballistic missile launches early.

The November 19 deadline has left Recep Erdrogan, Turkey's Prime Minister, torn between his Islamist supporters and his country's western allies. Mr Erdrogan has made improving his country's relationship with Iran a central foreign policy. Turkey voted against a slew of new sanctions imposed by the United Nations on Iran this summer in an effort to slow down its nuclear programme.

"Sacrificing the Iranian friendship to Nato would mean an end to the independent foreign policy Turkey has followed in recent years, and the respect that that has earned it in the Islamic world, " ", Hakan Albayrak, an influential pro-government commentator, said.

Turkey has long sought EU membership a demanded supported by the UK, but resisted by Germany and France. Islamists in Turkey, angered by the rebuff, have been arguing their country's interests will be best served through new alliances with its eastern neighbours.

In this case, though, US diplomats believe western pressure is working. Turkey's military has already mapped locations for specialised radar which would detect ballistic missile launches in Iran. It is also considering acquiring the US-built Patriot PAC3 interceptor missile.

Even if Turkey does join the missile-defence shield, though, some experts question if it will actually make Europe safe. Theodore Postel and George Lewis, among the world's top authorities on missile defence, have warned that apparently-successful tests of interceptor missiles were conducted "in carefully orchestrated scenarios that have been designed to hide fundamental flaws".

In September, 2009, Barack Obama, the US President, had authorised a £3.15 billion plan provide missile-defence shields for troops deployed in war-zones. The decision reversed earlier plans to develop larger shields to defend the populations of entire territories. But early this year, an official US review concluded the technology meant to protect deployed troops was good enough to protect territories as well.

Yousaf Butt, a nuclear expert at the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics, has said this plan rests on unsound foundations. Dr. Butt argued that if Iran was "irrational and suicidal enough to discount the threat of massive nuclear retaliation then a missile defence system that can theoretically intercept only some of the attacking missiles most certainly isn't going to be a deterrent".

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Turkey not partner but owner of NATO, FM says

October 30, 2010

Turkey is not a partner, but an owner of NATO, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said Saturday, adding that an agreement within the multi-national alliance is as important as an accord within the European Union.

Speaking to a small group of journalists en route from Xi’an to Shanghai as part of his weeklong China trip, Davutoğlu related a story about how a foreign minister from an EU member state referred to Turkey as an “important partner” during a meeting involving European security and defense policy.

“I took the floor after him in the same meeting and said that we are not a partner here, but an owner. We are an owner of NATO. We are not a partner,” the Turkish foreign minister said.

“I told my colleague the hat that should be worn in this meeting should belong to NATO and if he wants to speak with his EU hat on, he should go to another street in Brussels,” Davutoğlu added.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner is believed to be the EU colleague to whom Davutoğlu was referring.

“That was a pleasant discussion. My friend came later saying he had been misunderstood and we hugged,” the Turkish foreign minister added.

Turkey is not a member state in the EU, but a candidate country that began formal accession talks in 2005. The country has, however, been a member of NATO since 1952. Most recently, Ankara has been the subject of discussions over a potential NATO missile-defense system originally proposed by the United States during the Bush administration. It is unclear whether Turkey will actively participate in the proposed system directed against Iran, which much of the international community considers a threat due to its controversial nuclear program.

In discussing the plans, Davutoğlu first said calling the proposed system a “missile shield” was incorrect both technically and politically.

“Missile shield, missile wars, where will Turkey be in this war? The discussions within NATO are not about this at all,” he said. Davutoğlu added that the focus at the recent Brussels meeting of NATO foreign and defense ministers was more about NATO-EU cooperation, which he said did not have ramifications in Turkey.

Turkey not alone, but at the center of NATO

Davutoğlu then clarified the basic three principles in Ankara’s policy toward the NATO missile-defense system.

“First of all, Turkey is not a country that has to be convinced by NATO. Turkey is not alone; Turkey is at the center of NATO,” he said.

The foreign minister then gave another example from a different international meeting where Turkey’s role in NATO was being questioned.

“I gave a similar reaction in this debate too. If one [official from a member state] asks if the alliance is losing Turkey, this is an insult to Turkey... Every matter is discussed in NATO together. Turkey’s position should be taken into consideration here,” he said. “NATO regularly reviews its security defense concept as a whole and takes necessary measures as a security organization. It is out of the question for Turkey to oppose these measures.”

While explaining the country’s second principle, the foreign minister said NATO should take into account the principle of “indivisible security,” meaning that the alliance should preserve each and every member state’s security.

“An understanding of exclusion of certain regions of Turkey [from the proposed defense system] cannot be accepted. Turkey should entirely be protected,” he said. “The essence of the focus is the security of member states and only the security of member states.”

‘Turkey will not be a frontier’

In explaining the third principle, Davutoğlu said Turkey does perceive any threat in its neighborhood and does not plan to be a frontier country as it was during the Cold War era.

“Turkey is not in a position to be a frontier country. NATO, while doing threat planning on this issue, should cover all member states and should remain outside any formula that would geographically set one country against another,” he said.

The United States has often portrayed the missile-defense system as a safeguard against a possible ballistic strike from Iran. Ankara is concerned that such a perception could damage its growing relationship with its neighbor and has said it does not want the system to specifically identify any neighboring country, whether it be Iran or Syria.

“It is true that Turkey does not consider it appropriate to refer to neighboring countries in this [missile-defense] system... we want stability, prosperity and peace in our neighborhood,” Davutoğlu said.

‘We are not afraid of loneliness’

Asked if Turkey had reached a compromise with Washington on the plan, the foreign minister said it was in the works.

“If we defend one true thing, we never become afraid of remaining alone... It is natural for NATO to develop a defense system and Turkey will take part in this. It is not possible for anyone to oppose this,” he said.

Commenting on cooperation between NATO and the EU, Davutoğlu said, “An accord within NATO is as important as an accord within the EU.” He added that Turkey should be involved in the decision-making mechanisms related to EU security studies.

The decades-old Cyprus impasse is a sticking point in NATO-EU cooperation. Turkey objects to Greek Cyprus, an EU member state, sitting in on EU-NATO meetings because it is not a member of NATO’s partnership-for-peace program. Such issues were discussed in detail when NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen visited Ankara recently.

“The EU has not signed a security agreement with Turkey. Turkey’s accession to the European Defense Agency has not been approved. Turkey is not actively involved in the European security and defense policies and Turkey is the only country in this position compared to other non-EU, but NATO member states,” said Davutoğlu.

The foreign minister made clear that considering the abnormality, it would not be correct to expect Turkey to approve Greek Cyprus’ involvement in NATO decision-making mechanisms.

“Our attitude is based on principles and well understood by all parties concerned,” Davutoğlu said.

Genocide resolution not used as leverage

Asked about whether Washington was using the threat of a resolution acknowledging the alleged Armenian genocide as leverage against Ankara during negotiations on the NATO missile-defense plan, Davutoğlu said it was out of question.

“It is out of the question for any friendly country and ally to use an issue as leverage against us… This does not bode well with an alliance understanding,” he said. “We have constructive dialogue with the U.S. administration.”

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