Arab allies see NATO dispute as overblown

Special to World
Monday, February 17, 2003

CAIRO Arab allies of the United States appear unimpressed by the current division in NATO on whether to defend Turkey from an Iraqi missile attack.

Arab diplomatic sources and analyst expressed confidence that European members of the alliance would soon join forces with the United States in protecting Turkey. They said the objections by EU opponents to preparations for a war against Iraq were largely for domestic consumption.

"There is a huge gap between the debate in [NATO headquarters in] Brussels and what's happening in the Middle East," a senior Arab diplomat said. "You can see cooperation by almost all of NATO in the region."

The analysts and diplomats pointed to such developments as the Dutch supply of two PAC-2 missile defense systems to Israel and the deployment of German troops and French warships in the Gulf region. Germany and the Netherlands have already agreed to supply PAC-2 batteries to Ankara.

Mustafa Faqi, chairman of the Egyptian parliament's Foreign Relations Committee, cautioned against exaggerating the current dispute within NATO.

Faqi stressed that NATO members had been united through two world wars even before the alliance began.

"The American-European dispute should not be overblown," Faqi said. "It is a passing phenomenon. They have been involved in a serious dialogue under the guise of democracy in the West."

Faqi said Germany's opposition stemmed from domestic concerns. France, he said, has been concerned with protecting European interests.

[On Sunday, the London-based A-Sharq Al Awsat reported that President Saddam Hussein offered to designate U.S. companies as the prime contractors for all major energy projects in Iraq in exchange for cancelling war plans against his regime. The newspaper said President George Bush rejected two messages sent by Saddam that called for negotiations on his offer.]

The Arab analysts said the French and German opposition will result in renewed U.S. efforts for a Security Council resolution to approve a war against Iraq. But they said Washington would not allow diplomatic considerations to delay war plans.

"France does not have the capacity to give an absolute and indefinite 'no' to Washington, or that would entail a long-term confrontation with U.S. policy that Paris neither wants nor seeks, and which the current international balance of power does not permit," analyst Bashir Mousa Nafie writes in the London-based Al Quds Al Arabi daily.

On Sunday, Arab foreign ministers convene in Cairo to discuss the prospect of a U.S.-led war against Iraq. Greece, which holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, will also attend the meeting.

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