‘Half-dozen NATO members blocked EU attendance at summit’

June 01, 2012, Friday/ 17:56:00

Turkey was not alone in its efforts to block the European Union from participating in the NATO Chicago Summit held on May 20-21, Today's Zaman has learned. According to an Ankara-based Western diplomat with close knowledge of the inner workings of the 28-member military alliance, at least half a dozen member states objected to the idea that the EU leaders should join the high-profile meeting in Chicago. “Some of these countries were in fact EU members themselves, but they were afraid to say it publicly, unlike Turkey,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“But privately these countries told the Americans that it does not make any sense to see EU leaders participating in the summit, while NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen was not invited to the EU summits,” he explained, adding that the US understood the position and worked out a way to accommodate EU leaders on the sidelines of the meeting.

According to a compromise deal reached among NATO members on EU participation in the summit, President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy attended a meeting for contributors to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, while European Commission President José Manuel Barroso joined the opening ceremony of the summit. EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton joined the Foreign Ministers’ dinner on the sidelines of the meeting. The EU leaders did not participate in the private event honoring the 13 non-NATO nations that have made a special contribution to NATO’s Afghanistan effort.

France had argued that the European Union should be represented by Barroso and Rompuy at the summit, while half a dozen countries including EU member states said participation in the summit should be reserved for member states only.

“As both the EU and NATO’s work overlap more and more, it will exacerbate the situation in the future,” the same diplomat warned.

Commenting on reports that Turkey blocked the Israeli invitation to the summit in Chicago, the officials said that there was no invitation extended by the US to Israel for this summit. “NATO has some 60 partners as non-member partners. It was simply logistics and time that the summit could not accommodate all of them,” he said. NATO cooperates with many non-NATO countries as part of different schemes under the Euro-Atlantic Partnership, the Mediterranean Dialogue, the Istanbul Co-operation Initiative and other partnerships across the globe. Israel belongs to the Mediterranean Dialogue group, along with six other Arab and African countries.

“The selection of non-members for the Chicago invitee list was made according to the priorities determined for the summit by the US government,” the same diplomat underlined, stressing that one of the first priorities for NATO was to focus on the process of transition in Afghanistan. In the summit, NATO agreed to hand over security to Afghan forces by switching its mission emphasis to the support and training of local forces.

The Western diplomat’s explanation contradicts earlier reports in the Turkish media claiming that Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu reportedly said during a NATO meeting in Brussels in late April that Ankara would block EU and Israeli participation at an upcoming NATO summit in Chicago unless the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) is also allowed to be present, arguing that the OIC’s commitment had exceeded the EU contribution in the Afghanistan peace mission. “There was no invitation to the OIC, either,” the diplomat said.

The agreement under NATO umbrella

The same diplomat also noted the decision to host NATO’s early warning radar system at Kürecik in Malatya province was made under the NATO framework, although the initial agreement was signed by the US and Turkey. He emphasized that the negotiations were pursued by the NATO desks at the Turkish Foreign Ministry and the US State Department as part of an agreement made at the NATO Lisbon summit.

Opposition parties in Turkey have argued that Turkey’s decision to host the defense shield must be reviewed by Parliament and the government needs to get the consent of the legislative body before allowing the deployment of US troops in Kürecik. The debate centers on the argument that the government is constitutionally required to obtain authorization for any foreign troop deployment on Turkish soil. The government disagrees, arguing that the NATO agreement allows NATO troops to be deployed in Turkey as part of NATO operations.

It is a law passed back in 1963 giving authorization to the Cabinet that causes governments to feel no obligation to seek approval from Parliament when it comes to the establishment of NATO facilities in Turkey. According to Article 92 of the Turkish Constitution, it is Parliament that holds the authority to allow foreign military forces to be based in Turkey. The same article makes an exception to Parliament’s authority, saying, “except in cases where international agreements signed by Turkey or international codes of courtesy would require.”

During the Chicago summit, NATO declared that its European missile shield is up and running with a basic capability to shoot down incoming missiles. The US turned over operational control of parts of the system to NATO.

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