Vedrine: Turkish Opposition won\'t Hamper EU Defense Plans
Turkish opposition to EU plans for a 60,000-strong rapid reaction force will not hamper European defense advances, according to French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine.
NATO failed here Friday to overcome Turkey's concerns about relations with the European Union and its 60,000-strong rapid reaction force, but agreed to keep on trying to close the gap.
The European Union is seeking full-time access to NATO's unparalleled ability to plan major military operations, as it puts together a rapid reaction force capable of hopping into Balkan-like hotspots on 60 days' notice for humanitarian and peacekeeping operations.
The United States and other NATO allies are ready to oblige, not least to avoid the Europeans setting up their own military bodies that could wind up rivaling the alliance.
But Turkey -- citing national security concerns -- argues that EU access to NATO planning and assets, such as intelligence and heavy-lift aircraft, should be granted on a case-by-case basis.
Behind Ankara's concerns is the geopolitical fact that the EU force is most likely to intervene in the Balkans, Central Asia and the Mediterranean -- all areas at its doorstep.
However the foreign minister for France, which currently holds the EU's rotating presidency, was not sounding too concerned.
It's an important issue but it's not the be all and end all for Europe's defense project, Vedrine told journalists following a working dinner here of his NATO and EU counterparts.
"The main thing is to give a concrete form to this European defense policy," the French foreign minister added.
He did not take part in the earlier NATO meeting here, as he was returning from a trip to the Middle East, acting in the EU presidency role which France will hand over next month.
He stressed here that the EU defense project was not a threat to NATO but may constitute a disturbance to its methods of working.
"Nobody wants to weaken NATO, The EU's independent decision does not mean we are going to create a second SHAPE (NATO's European headquarters in Belgium)" Vedrine said.
"It is a serious matter for the Turks, but they are interpreting everything from the point of view of their own problems, they need to put the problem in perspective."
The deadlock is now expected to be passed back down to NATO ambassadors to thrash out in the coming weeks, even months.
NATO Secretary General George Robertson said "worthwhile but important progress" had been made, but stressed: "This is a long process. We should not be held to artificial deadlines" -- BRUSSELS (AFP)
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