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NATO hits impasse over EU force

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- A meeting of NATO foreign ministers aimed at settting out the terms of a security deal with the European Union has hit a deadlock.

The NATO ministers were discussing for the first time the implications of the European Union's planned creation of its own defence force of up to 60,000 ground troops

But Turkey, which has the second biggest army in NATO, is reluctant to give the Rapid Reaction Force access to the transatlantic alliance's assets, fearing it will be shut out of the decision-making process.

It wants non-EU NATO members, such as itself, assured of closer participation than the EU aims to grant.

While separate, it had been planned that the new EU force would share some of NATO's planning facilities, intelligence and communications.

Turkish sources at the annual two-day meeting of the 19 foreign ministers of the Western alliance said U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright had asked Foreign Minister Ismail Cem to be more flexible.

Frustration with France

The EU's 15 leaders approved a detailed report on European security and defence policy at the Nice summit but the scheme is viewed with concern by some NATO members, including the United States.

U.S. Defence Secretary William Cohen has warned that if the new force were to be set up as a competing structure, NATO could become a "relic of history."

NATO sources said there was particular frustration with France, currently holder of the EU presidency, which is perceived by some as pursuing its own agenda of the force's "independence" from NATO.

France is the only power among NATO's 19 allies whose military forces are not part of the alliance's integrated command structure.

It maintains that U.S. "hyperpower" in a unipolar world is dangerous for stability.

It is unlikely that an agreement will be issued by NATO foreign ministers beyond the acceptance of a generally-worded one-page statement agreed by defence ministers last week.

"There is a climate of mistrust and it's focused on one of the 19 allies," said a diplomat, referring to France.

"The Turks are being inflexible, but no one mistrusts their motives," he added.

France has denied it wants a military planning headquarters separate from that of the Alliance's Supreme Headquarters Europe (SHAPE), and said it simply aimed to use national planning capability when NATO assets were not needed for peace missions.

It insists the problems lie with NATO and not the EU.

"The European Union is moving ahead and this organisation is bogged down. They see the train leaving the station and they are worried they're not aboard," a French diplomat said.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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EU force 'will strengthen NATO'
November 26, 2000
Analysis: Problems facing Europe's rapid reaction force
November 20, 2000
Europe bites bullet with defence force
November 16, 2000
Putin welcomes EU expansion but rejects NATO
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