State Department Mum As Turkey Tries to Block Israel’s Participation in Chicago NATO Summit

April 24, 2012 - 4:25 AM
Obama-Erdogan

President Obama talks with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the G20 summit in Cannes, France on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

(CNSNews.com) – Taking advantage of NATO’s decision-making-by-consensus, Turkey is working to block Israeli participation in alliance events, and on Monday, the State Department’s spokeswoman declined to say whether the U.S. would like Israel to take part in next month’s key NATO summit in Chicago.

Instead, Victoria Nuland for several minutes fended off questions on the matter, saying decisions have yet to be made on which of NATO’s partner countries would be invited to Chicago.

Enhancing partnerships with countries outside NATO is one of the summit’s three declared themes.

Fielding questions on Turkey’s stance, Nuland said planning for Chicago was still underway and she had nothing to announce regarding partnership arrangements.

“We haven’t made any announcements about who among NATO’s 25-30 partners around the world we expect to invite to Chicago,” she said. “So I’m not going to comment on individual partners and whether they’re coming to Chicago. “

Nuland – who served as U.S. ambassador to NATO from 2005-2008 – reiterated the importance of consensus among the alliance’s members.

“It’s important that we come to a consensus agreement at NATO about a strong partnership aspect of this summit,” she said. “So we’re still working on that.”

Nuland noted that partners were not always invited to NATO events – “for each summit, NATO makes decisions by a consensus what the partnership geometry will be. And that has not been decided.”

Asked several times specifically for the administration’s view on Israeli attendance, she demurred – even when a wire service reporter suggested that the administration was risking being “absolutely slammed” for her unwillingness to answer the question with regard to “its main ally in the Middle East.”

“I’m not going to get into – here – what we have proposed and where we are in the internal dialogue at NATO until the issues are settled by consensus,” she said. “That’s not the way NATO works, okay? Let’s move on.”

NATO has several dozen partner countries, ranging from European non-members (e.g. Russia) and aspiring members (Macedonia, Montenegro etc.) to non-NATO countries involved in Afghanistan (e.g. Australia). Seven partners belong to NATO’s “Mediterranean Dialogue” established in 1994 – Israel, Egypt, Algeria, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia.

Citing Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and other government officials, Turkish media reported Monday that Ankara has informed fellow NATO members that it will not endorse Israeli participation in alliance events, including the Chicago summit.

Davutoglu reportedly raised the issue during NATO deliberations in Brussels last week, attended by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, among others.

The Turkish reports tied the government’s stance to the ongoing diplomatic rift over an Israeli commando raid on a Gaza-bound Turkish ship in May 2010, and Turkey’s demands for apologies and compensation.

Violent clashes between commandos and activists left nine activists dead, worsening already tense relations between the one-time allies. Extolling the Palestinian cause, the Islamist-leaning government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan embraced the Hamas terrorist group and became the Jewish state’s foremost critic in international forums.

Israel and Turkey are longstanding allies of the U.S., and the Obama administration has sought to juggle its relationships with both, urging them to settle their differences.

At the same time President Obama has drawn closer to Erdogan, a development that has prompted concerns, given some of the Turkish leader’s foreign and domestic polices.

According to NATO, one of the three themes of the May 20-21 summit in Obama’s hometown is “strengthening NATO’s network of partners across the globe.’

“NATO is working more flexibly with partners, within and beyond existing bonds, to address global challenges,” the alliance says in an article on the summit. “Chicago will be an opportunity for Allies to broaden their networks of partnerships and deepen relations at a time when cooperation is no longer considered as a luxury, but a necessity.”

Now, however, Turkey’s move to block Israel may have the unintended effect of also preventing the participation of the other “Mediterranean Dialogue” partners – Egypt, Algeria, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia.

A report in the Turkish Today’s Zaman newspaper said unnamed NATO members in Brussels last week had reacted to Davutoglu’s declaration regarding Israel by saying that if Israel could not attend then neither could the other Mediterranean partners.

‘Consensus’

The Erdogan government has used NATO’s consensus requirement in the recent past to make political stands that it regards as important to its national interests.

Last September, Davutoglu said Turkey had threatened to veto an attempt by Israel by open a liaison office at NATO headquarters in Brussels.

At the last NATO summit, in Portugal in 2010, Turkey insisted that neither Iran nor Syria be named in a key alliance document dealing with missile defense plans for Europe – even though the Iranian threat has long been the principal cited reason for the proposed missile shield.

NATO complied; Iran was not mentioned in the document and both NATO and Obama administration officials referred vaguely to the missile threat “from the Middle East.”

Another NATO member, Greece, has relied on the consensus requirement to block entry to Macedonia. The two countries have been locked in a dispute for decades over Macedonia’s name.