NATO met on Sunday to consider a Belgian compromise proposal that could resolve the worst crisis in the military alliance's history and provide Turkey with military defense if war breaks out in Iraq.
NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson has had a head-scratching week, but the worst may be over.
Diplomats from the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance sought again on Sunday to reach a unified position on the contentious issue of whether planning should commence for a NATO defense of Turkey in the event of a war on Iraq. Germany, France and Belgium are continuing to block efforts of the majority of NATO's membership to begin planning.
Alliance representatives are considering a proposal by Belgium submitted to NATO's Defense Planning Committee that would permit the planning to convene, but only under the condition that assurances are given NATO will not be involved in planning a military invasion of Iraq.
"What our country primarily wants to prevent is that this decision would constitute the first step in the build-up to war," Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt said 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."
A face-saving solution
Though the compromise does not resolve the split between European countries in the question of how to proceed in the Iraq crisis, it could deliver a face-saving solution to the current NATO conflict -- the worst in its 53-year history.
Sunday's meeting is significant because France is not a member of the Defense Planning Committee and a decision could be binding if the 18 members of the body approve the compromise. Though France is still a formal member of NATO, it is not part of its military infrastructure. Former French President Charles de Gaulle withdrew his country from the commission in 1966 to ensure that his troops would never fall under foreign command.
Early last week, NATO Secretary-General George Robertson proposed supplying Ankara with Patriot anti-missile rockets as well as AWACS surveillance planes (photo). He also called on NATO to provide Turkey with special units to aid in defending the country from non-conventional weapons, including biological or chemical attacks. Turkey applied for the assistance under Article 4 of the NATO Convention, but that has also complicated matters, since the article requires that a partner state be under the threat of attack before aid can be delivered.
A breakthrough on Sunday could ease tensions within Europe leading up to an unprecedented EU summit planned in Brussels on Monday. Leaders at the summit will seek to carve out a unified position on Iraq among a deeply split Europe.
If the compromise is approved, a meeting of the NATO Council is expected immediately afterward, an alliance spokesman told Reuters on Sunday.