Amid Turkish reservations on planned NATO missile system, gates appeals for Turkey's support
Addressing the 29th annual meeting of the Turkish-American Council (TAC) in Washington yesterday, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the US isn't pressing Turkey to give a green light to a continental missile shield system first proposed by the US, but now being discussed under the NATO umbrella. Calling NATO the most important international security framework for both Turkey and the US, Gates said, "NATO should have a continental missile defense system. The Phased Adaptive Approach has been thoroughly studied. It is effective, it is affordable, and it can be fielded quickly. The US has engaged Turkey in political and military dialogue on its potential technical and operational contributions should NATO adopt this approach. Contrary to some press reports, we are not pressuring Turkey to make a contribution. But we do look to Turkey to support NATO's adoption at the Lisbon Summit of a territorial missile defense capability." NATO member country heads of states are scheduled to meet in Lisbon, Portugal next month to discuss planned changes to the structure and security doctrine of the 28-member alliance. "On the subject of reform," Gates also said, "the US would like to thank Turkey for its many contributions to this NATO effort, and we look forward to working with the new assistant secretary general for defense policy and planning, Huseyin Dirioz, as he undertakes one of the most important jobs at NATO headquarters. In addition to its institutions, NATO's military capabilities must also adapt to today’s security environment. These critical new capabilities that I believe the alliance must have in the 21st century – one of the most important is territorial missile defense." Stressing that his participation in the TAC meeting shows the importance he places on Turkish-US relations, Gates said, "As with all friends, we have had some disagreements ... Nonetheless, even as our views and approaches on some issues may differ, we are allies, we share fundamental interests in the region, and our goals remain the same ... The US and Turkey have fought together from Korea to Kosovo to Kabul. I believe our partnership is defined not just by the enemies we’ve faced, but our fundamental shared interests and values. Both of our countries are diverse democracies which, in the words of Ataturk, 'strive to win (our) victories in such fields as culture, scholarship, science and economics'." Reiterating support for Turkey's EU accession bid, Gates also said his country is maintaining close cooperation with Turkey against the terrorist PKK. "The United States is committed to working closely with Turkey to confront the PKK, a terrorist threat we recognize as paramount to Turkey’s national security interests," he said. "In response to the rise in PKK terrorist attacks against Turkish military forces and civilians over the past year or so, the US has steadily increased its efforts to crack down on PKK criminal enterprises, enhanced its intelligence support, and reached out to our European allies to encourage them to freeze PKK assets in Europe." Gates said that Turkey is setting a good democratic example for Iraq, and is sharing its democratic experience with Baghdad. Also speaking at the meeting, Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul voiced support for NATO's restructuring efforts, but urged that this restructuring stay in line with its main objective, namely to protect NATO members. Turkey welcomes the US government's adaptable and gradual approach to NATO restructuring, he said. Stating that President Barack Obama's address to Turkey's Parliament last year and his proposal of a model partnership were welcomed, Gonul also criticized a US House Committee's passage of a so-called Armenian genocide resolution this March. "Passage of the resolution raised suspicions in the minds of many, but we're sure that it won't reach the House floor for a full vote," he said. During the meeting, Gates also presented Gonul with a Defense Distinguished Service Medal. Diplomatic sources said Turkey has two main reservations about the planned global missile defense system: It should not target any specific country, and it should cover all of Turkey, not just part.