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Sunday, 16 February, 2003, 12:45 GMT
Nato scrutinises compromise plan
Flags flying outside Nato headquarters
Iraq policy has deeply divided the alliance
Nato ambassadors are considering a new Belgian proposal designed to end the impasse over the alliance's military aid to Turkey in the event of an Iraq war.

Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt said his country was prepared to end its veto - which - alongside those of France and Germany - has plunged Nato into its worst crisis since the end of the Cold War.

It needs to be implicitly clear in this decision that it would not entail a Nato involvement in a military operation against Iraq

Guy Verhofstadt
Belgian Prime Minister
Mr Verhofstadt said Brussels wanted Nato to make it clear that aid to Turkey was of a defensive nature and not a first step to involve the alliance in a possible Iraq war.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the French delegation said a solution was possible and it would involve Paris staying out of any military support to Turkey, but reaffirming its political solidarity with Ankara.

Sunday's meeting involves Nato's Defence Planning Committee, on which France is not represented.

It will be followed by a meeting of the North Atlantic Council (NAC), where ambassadors of all 19 Nato member states will take part.

EU foreign ministers are due to hold an emergency summit on Iraq on Monday, and diplomatic sources say that a breakthrough on the Nato deadlock could come on the fringes of that meeting.

Common ground sought

Belgium "wants to avoid above all that this decision is a first step in a build-up to war," Mr Verhofstadt told reporters on Saturday.

"It needs to be implicitly clear in this decision that it would not entail a Nato involvement in a military operation against Iraq," he said.

A US navy plane captain sits on the wing of an F/A-18 Hornet aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln,
The US military build-up continues in the Gulf
On Sunday, the French spokesman was quoted by the AFP news agency as saying that the NAC meeting "should be able to reaffirm the fact that the allies are ready... to fulfil their obligations to Turkey".

Nato held several days of inconclusive talks last week in an attempt to resolve the issue.

The US has argued that Nato was obliged under its treaty to provide military support to Turkey, the only member state which borders directly on Iraq.

But France, which has firmly opposed any precipitate military action against Iraq, told its Nato allies that it could prejudice the Security Council debate on the issue by appearing to prepare to war.

The US is still hoping that Turkey will allow at least one army division to be stationed there in the run-up to possible military action.

Ankara is due to make a decision as early as Tuesday on whether to allow its bases to be used.

A Nato commitment to help Turkey's own defences would, the Pentagon believes, help its case.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Janet Barrie
"The United States has accused the three countries of wrecking the alliance"

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16 Feb 03 | Americas
16 Feb 03 | Middle East
12 Feb 03 | Media reports
11 Feb 03 | Europe
10 Feb 03 | Europe
11 Feb 03 | Americas
16 Feb 03 | Middle East
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