Serious Risks Noted to NATO Solidarity over Impending War

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BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) NATO SecretaryGeneral Lord Robertson hinted at serious risks to the alliances solidarity, as talks among its 19member nations were set to resume Tuesday.

The longer this dispute goes on, the worse it is going to be for the alliance, and for them, Robertson said.

Robertson made his remarks after France, Germany, and Belgium on Monday vetoed a USbacked measure to authorize NATO to make plans to protect Turkey in the event of attack by Iraq.

Turkey responded by invoking a clause in NATOs mutual defense treaty requiring immediate consultations. It was the first time in 53 years that a member of the Atlantic alliance publicly activated the emergency measure.

American Ambassador Nicholas Burns said the European rejection had plunged NATO into crisis.

The NATO decision was followed later Monday by a joint declaration in Paris in which Russia joined France and Germany in calling for strengthened UN weapons inspections in Iraq. Russian President Vladimir Putin chose his words carefully, saying, We are against the war. ... At the moment, thats the view I have.

In Washington, US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the United States and the 16 other countries in the alliane would go ahead with planning outside of NATO if necessary.

President George W. Bush, also in Washington, said: I think it affects the alliance in a negative way when you are not able to make a statement of mutual defense.

Upset is not the proper word, Bush said when reporters asked for his views on Frances diplomacy. I am disappointed that France would block NATO from helping a country like Turkey to prepare.

The French and German view is that Turkey does not need the equipment now, and that planning for Turkeys defense now could send the wrong signal.

If Turkey is ever attacked, we will stand at its side, that is not an issue here, said Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt at a news conference. At issue is, are we at a logical point where we are at war?

NATOs military commanders say the planning for the limited support for Turkey can be wrapped up within a few days once they get the go-ahead, but actual deployment of the NATO units, including AWACS planes and Patriot missile defense systems, will need further approval from the 19 allies and could take up to a month.

The debate began in mid-January. But a French official at NATO headquarters said Paris saw no reason to change its position until at least Friday, when the UN weapons inspectors are due to report to the Security Council in New York.

In Paris, French President Jacques Chirac said Iraqs weapons capability must be neutralized as quickly as possible but that waging war to do so should be considered only as a last resort.

Nothing today justifies a war, Chirac said. This region really does not need another war.

Putin, in Paris after weekend talks in Berlin with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, said Russia believes the crisis must be resolved diplomatically.

Rumsfeld said Turkey needs aerial surveillance and anti-missile equipment as well as detection devices for biological and chemical weapons to protect against Iraqi counterstrikes.

Turkey is the only NATO country bordering Iraq, and is expected to be a base for US troops opening up a northern front in Iraq should war break out.

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Widening split

WASHINGTON (AP) -A widening split between the United States and three NATO allies could impede President George W. Bushs chances of gaining support at the United Nations for war as an option to disarm Iraq.

France, Germany, and Belgium jointly vetoed on Monday a US-backed measure to authorize NATO to make plans to protect Turkey if Iraq attacks it. Russia then joined France and Germany in demanding strengthened weapons inspections in Iraq, which the Bush administration considers virtually useless. …