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Belgian demand halts NATO progress

Verhofstadt: Belgium wanted links to second U.N. resolution.

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NATO countries yet to resolve stalemate over security of Turkey. CNN's Matthew Chance reports (February 13)
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BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) -- Fresh efforts to end an impasse at NATO over preparations in case of war in Iraq faltered Sunday, extending a bitter dispute that has angered Washington and deepened divisions in Europe itself ahead of a key summit.

NATO allies were refusing a new demand from Belgium -- one of three holdouts among the 19 allies -- that any eventual NATO decision to send military assistance to Turkey be linked to a second U.N. resolution.

The others do not agree, "but we will not give in," Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel told the Belgian news agency, Belga.

NATO diplomats said the United States and other allies objected in principle to hog-tying alliance decision-making to any other organization. "We see these as separate and firewalled," a NATO source said on condition of anonymity.

Belgium had joined France and Germany for the past month in blocking a NATO decision to begin planning to help fortify Turkey -- the only NATO ally bordering Iraq -- against any potential reprisals. They argued such a move would undermine U.N. efforts to avoid a war.

Belgian Defense Minister Andre Flahaut told Belga Germany was supporting Belgium's position, at least initially. German diplomats at NATO would not comment as talks dragged on into the night.

To help end the stalemate, NATO put the issue Sunday to its Defense Planning Committee, which excludes France. Paris left NATO's military command structure in the late 1960s and participates only in political, not military consultations.

The committee, which has the same authority as the policy-setting North Atlantic Council on most defense matters, was used ahead of the 1991 war against Iraq to approve aid for Turkey. But NATO has sought to limit its use since the end of the Cold War in a spirit of rapprochement with Paris.

The United States proposed a month ago that the alliance consider sending early warning AWACS aircraft, missile defenses and anti-biochemical units to Turkey.

But after France, Germany and Belgium blocked the planning for three weeks, Turkey last Monday invoked NATO's mutual defense treaty, which bind the allies to talks when one feels threatened, but so far to no avail.

Turkey, which shares a border with Iraq, feels especially vulnerable, especially as it is considering allowing tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers to use Turkish facilities for a possible Iraq war.

The United States and its allies say denying support for Turkey's defense erodes the alliance's credibility and sends the wrong signal to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Some of the measures can be done bilaterally -- Germany has already agreed to send Patriot missiles to Turkey via the Netherlands -- but those missiles need to be linked to NATO radar networks to be effective.

Countries such as Germany also have promised AWACS crews, but the planes themselves are NATO assets.

Ahead of the meeting, Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt said his country could lift its veto if NATO makes more explicit that any planning would be strictly defensive and does not make the alliance party to war preparations against Iraq. NATO officials insist that has been the case all along.

But the demand to link any actual deployment of military aid to a second U.N. resolution was the most contentious. Belgian diplomats insisted the demand was of "crucial importance" to them to show support for the United Nations.

Their objections have driven a deep wedge into the 53-year-old alliance.

It also has exacerbated tensions within Europe ahead of Monday's emergency summit of 15 European Union leaders, who are trying to reconcile their own widely differing policies on Iraq.

Britain, Spain, Denmark and Italy have broadly backed U.S. President George W. Bush, while France and Germany have tried to slow what they see as his headlong rush to war.

Speaking on Belgium's RTBF television Sunday, Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel said the critical attitude of France, Belgium and Germany "could be the seed of the relaunching of a European common position on Iraq."

But in a speech to party delegates in Scotland on Saturday, British Prime Minister Tony Blair argued there was a "moral case" for war and said it would be "an act of humanity" to depose Saddam.

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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