Turkey, US in ciritical talks over fate of missile shield plan
Top Turkish and US officials held talks in Brussels on the sidelines of a NATO meeting yesterday, discussing Washington's plans to move forward with a missile defense system plan that Ankara insists should not intimidate its Middle East neighbors. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul met with their US counterparts – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates – a few hours after NATO's secretary-general urged member states to endorse a proposed anti-missile system that would protect Europe and North America. NATO is proposing to expand an existing system of battlefield missile defense to cover the territory of all alliance members against ballistic missiles from nations such as Iran and North Korea. NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has proposed that Russia also join the project, thus creating a network that would stretch from "Vancouver to Vladivostok." "The threat is clear, the capability exists and the costs are manageable," Rasmussen said in his opening remarks at the rare joint meeting of defense and foreign ministers of the alliance. "Starting today, NATO is in the sprint to the summit. The decisions we take in the next two weeks will shape the future of the world's most successful alliance." The US supports the missile defense proposal, but other governments have taken a dim view of it, citing high costs and saying it will not provide a robust nuclear deterrent. For its part, Turkey has asserted it would approve such a plan only if it was convinced that there was a concrete threat, or at least a perceived threat, against all NATO members. Nonetheless, rather than broad-based support, Turkey is seeking a unanimous agreement over such plans. "One is not smaller than the 27," is Ankara's customary motto when speaking about NATO issues, in an apparent reference to unanimous voting, which has been a cornerstone of the 28-member consensus-based alliance. In addition to consensus, Ankara also wants any planned missile-defense system to protect its entire territory, not provide partial protection. Ankara also wants the system to have a "deterrent" characteristic and fiercely opposes naming any particular country as a threat against the alliance, the latter concern related to potential harm to its growing ties with neighbors such as Iran. Over the past decade, Ankara has been proactively engaged in a "zero-problem" policy with its neighbors, the greater Middle East, and post-Soviet countries.