U.S. offers new plan in protecting Turkey

It's not clear whether France, Germany and Belgium will support the change.
BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) - The United States sought today to overcome objections by France, Germany and Belgium to NATO preparations in case of an Iraq war. A compromise dealt only with defending Turkey and dropped a request for NATO troops to replace any allied forces sent from the Balkans to the Persian Gulf.
The three European countries have been blocking a proposal backed by the United States and 15 other nations to prepare to send anti-missile batteries and surveillance aircraft to Turkey to protect that country from reprisal from Iraq.
The United States -- and a growing number of Europeans -- say divisions over the Turkey issue threaten NATO credibility.
After intensive overnight negotiations between capitals, NATO diplomats said the United States had agreed to eliminate two elements from its original proposal: a request that the allies fill in for European soldiers if they are moved from the Balkans to the Persian Gulf and a request that European forces step up guard duties at U.S. bases in Europe. Alliance officials said both those issues were being dealt with at a bilateral level -- Germany, for example, deployed hundreds of soldiers at U.S. bases last month.
"We entered a new phase of the discussions," U.S. Ambassador Nicholas Burns said. But, he added, "It may take some time to get to the end."
"We believe that we now have elements which can help up bring the discussion forward," NATO spokesman Yves Brodeur said. "The proposal now specifically addresses the defensive needs of Turkey."
The compromise proposal was presented to the 19 ambassadors this morning. Talks were then suspended after about 90 minutes to allow further consultations with capitals before another session later today.
The proposed change would leave the options on the table focused entirely on Turkey's request for help through the dispatch of AWACS radar planes, Patriot anti-missile batteries and specialized units to counter poison gas or germ warfare attacks.
It was not clear if the changes would sway France, Germany and Belgium.
"The latest proposal is fundamentally different," said Belgian Foreign Ministry spokesman Didier Seeuws.
However, diplomats indicated the three still wanted to link any decision at NATO to Friday's report to the U.N. Security Council on Iraq's cooperation with U.N. weapons inspectors. NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson was hoping for an agreement that would start to patch up the alliance's worst internal dispute in years.
For almost a month, the holdouts have blocked the start of military planning to help Turkey, saying the move would send a signal that NATO is engaged on an irreversible path of war and would undermine U.N. efforts to end the Iraqi crisis peacefully.
"The alliance is breaking itself up because it will not meet its responsibilities," U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell warned in Washington on Tuesday as the stalemate dragged on.
The division in the alliance threatens U.S. efforts to rally support in the U.N. Security Council for military action against Iraq. France and Germany, joined by Russia and China, are seeking more time for stronger U.N. inspections in a proposal opposed by Washington and London.
NATO's dispute intensified Monday when Turkey invoked the alliance's mutual defense treaty to ask for assistance, but was rebuffed by France, Germany and Belgium. Critics on both sides of the Atlantic said the holdouts sent a dangerous message of disunity to the Iraqi leadership.
"You cannot say Turkey doesn't feel threatened," said Dutch Foreign Minister Jaap de Hoop Scheffer in The Hague, Netherlands. "There is one man and one regime that can profit from this [division]: Saddam Hussein."

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