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NATO approves planning for Turkey's defense

Alliance moves ahead despite France's opposition

NATO Secretary-General George Robertson says
NATO Secretary-General George Robertson says "arduous but constructive" discussions led to the unanimous vote.

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BRUSSELS, Belgium (CNN) -- The 18 members of a key NATO committee agreed unanimously Sunday night to approve defense planning for Turkey in case of war against Iraq.

"The 18 NATO allies -- members of the integrated military structure -- agreed today to task military planners to begin their work and advice on preventive deployment of AWACS airplanes, NATO support for deployment of theater missile defenses of Turkey, and support for allied chemical and biological defense capabilities," NATO Secretary-General George Robertson said.

France, the sole member of NATO that is not on the Defense Planning Committee, continued to oppose the idea.

The announcement was made after a day of what Robertson called "arduous but constructive" discussions. Last week, France, Germany and Belgium declined to approve the move. The German and Belgian representatives were persuaded to change their minds.

"I'm happy to announce we have been able to collectively overcome the impasse we faced for the last few days," Robertson said.

"These decisions are purely for the defense of Turkey," he said. "This is not a step toward war."

Robertson added, "NATO nations have assumed their collective responsibilities toward Turkey, a nation at the moment under threat."

Turkey sought the help last week, after it became clear that U.S.-led war with Iraq appears likely.

France, Germany, and Belgium had fought the move out of concern that it would push the region closer to conflict.

But a NATO new release offered this assurance: "We continue to support efforts in the United Nations to find a peaceful solution to the crisis. This decision relates only to the defense of Turkey, and is without prejudice to any other military operations by NATO, and future decisions by NATO or the U.N. Security Council."

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