Thursday, 24 March 2011

Fierce France-Turkey Quarrel Erupts Over NATO Control of Libya Operation

The French Turkish quarrel is now erupting into the open. The Guardian reports that it is stymieing plans for the Americans to hand over operational control to someone else.

Turkey has launched a bitter attack on French president Nicolas Sarkozy's and France's leadership of the military campaign against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, accusing the French of lacking a conscience in their conduct in the Libyan operations.

The vitriolic criticism, from both the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the president, Abdullah Gül followed attacks from the Turkish government earlier this week and signalled an orchestrated attempt by Ankara to wreck Sarkozy's plans to lead the air campaign against Gaddafi.

Apparently childish pique forms the basis of Turkish policy on the Libya conflict.

The Turks are incensed at repeated snubs by Sarkozy. The French failed to invite Turkey to last Saturday's summit in Paris which presaged the air strikes. French fighters taking off from Corsica struck the first blows. The Turkish government accused Sarkozy of launching not only the no-fly zone, but his presidential re-election campaign.

The clash between Turkey and France over Libya is underpinned by acute frictions between Erdogan and Sarkozy, both impetuous and mercurial leaders who revel in the limelight, by fundamental disputes over Ankara's EU ambitions, and by economic interests in north Africa.

The confrontation is shaping up to be decisive in determining the outcome of the bitter infighting over who should inherit command of the Libyan air campaign from the Americans and could come to a head at a major conference in London next week of the parties involved.

And there's a dash of jihadism and Castro-style anti-western hysterics in there too.

Using incendiary language directed at France in a speech in Istanbul, Erdogan said: "I wish that those who only see oil, gold mines and underground treasures when they look in [Libya's] direction, would see the region through glasses of conscience from now on."

President Gül reinforced the Turkish view that France and others were being driven primarily by economic interests. "The aim [of the air campaign] is not the liberation of the Libyan people," he said. "There are hidden agendas and different interests."

Is it not astonishing that the president and prime minister of what purports to be a serious, westernised country are coming out with embarrassing North Korea-like rhetoric like this? "Oil, gold mines and underground treasures"?

It seems the French Interior Minister is the one who had used the word "crusade", to which Turkey took fierce objection.

Earlier this week, Claude Guéant, the French interior minister who was previously Sarkozy's chief adviser, outraged the Muslim world by stating that the French president was "leading a crusade" to stop Gaddafi massacring Libyans.

Erdogan denounced the use of the word crusade yesterday, blaming those, France chief among them, who are opposed to Turkey joining the EU.

According to the Guardian, which is not necessarily to be trusted because it has a strong pro-Turkey bias, Turkey is currently vetoing NATO operational control of the action in Libya because it wants NATO to have total political control too. This would allow Turkey to veto operations, such as the air strikes on ground targets, which it objects to, claiming they go beyond the UN-sanctioned remit for a no-fly zone. France does not want to hand over full control to NATO because that would give Turkey veto power which it would then use to undermine the success of the operation, which is clearly intended at removing Gaddafi from power. It is believed that almost all of Libya's aircraft have already been destroyed so if Turkey blocks air strikes on ground targets, there would be almost nothing left for the coalition to do. Given its pro-Gaddafi approach, this would obviously suit Turkey just fine.

All in all, this seems to a diplomatic quarrel of rare intensity. When the dust settles on the Libyan adventure, you have to wonder whether Sarkozy will respond to it by vetoing Turkey's EU membership application outright. There must be a real chance of that now.

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