Turkey says NATO move on Libya absurd

March 2, 2011 - 0:0

ANKARA/LONDON (The Financial Times) -- Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister, has hit out at U.S. and UK calls for military intervention in the Libya crisis, warning that would be an “absurdity” for the NATO alliance to intervene in the region.

As the stance of Turkey, a prominent western ally, was bolstered by similar comments from non-NATO member Russia, the U.S. and UK led calls for tougher action to stop the violent crackdown against opposition forces by Muammer Gaddafi, Libya’s leader. Both Washington and London are saying they are looking at the possible establishment of a no-fly zone to prevent air attacks on towns held by rebels.
But Mr. Erdogan said on Monday such plans were “unthinkable”, telling a conference in Germany: “As Turkey, we are against this – it should not even be discussed.”
Turkey has the second largest standing army in the 28-member NATO defense alliance and has an increasingly influential voice in the Middle East, where its growing economic weight has helped it renew old ties with its neighbors.
Sergei Lavrov, the foreign minister of Russia, a permanent member of the UN security council, also ruled out the idea of a no-fly zone on Tuesday. But Mr. Erdogan’s comments suggest it could be difficult for a western military operation to be conducted under NATO auspices. NATO tends to take decisions on military action by consensus. If it is unable to reach this consensus, the U.S. and UK may be forced to mount a no-fly zone using an informal coalition of willing states.
France also expressed doubts about military intervention, stressing that humanitarian aid and cutting off Col Gaddafi’s income sources should be the priorities.
Mr. Erdogan said on Monday any form of sanctions or intervention could endanger the lives of Libyans and foreigners still in the country and he suggested that western governments were motivated more by calculations over oil than humanitarian concerns.
“The Middle East and Africa have been viewed by the west as sources of oil and used as pawns in oil wars for decades,” he said in Germany, claiming western double standards over human rights had driven protesters onto the streets.
Such rhetoric plays well with voters at home, where anti-American sentiment has strengthened in recent years, and opposition to Israeli policies in Gaza has hardened.
Turkey’s resistance to financial sanctions against Libya is also consistent with the position it took last year towards Iran, when defied Washington to vote against UN sanctions targeting Tehran’s nuclear program.
“Any type of sanctions or intervention that would punish the Libyan people is unacceptable and would cause massive problems,” Mr. Erdogan said at the conference.”
A Turkish diplomat also compared the rejection of military intervention to Ankara’s position in 2003, when parliament voted to refuse American troops use of Turkish territory for the invasion of Iraq – a decision that caught the west by surprise, but bolstered Turkey’s diplomatic credibility as an independent player in the region.
However, Mr. Erdogan has faced criticism within Turkey for being slow to speak out in support of the protests erupting across the region.
Since the explosion of protest in Egypt, he has called for governments across the region to heed protestors’ concerns, but has been slow to comment directly on the chaos unfolding in Libya – where Turkey’s priority has been the evacuation of more than 15,000 expatriate workers.
Photo: Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech at the opening ceremony for the CeBIT IT fair on February 28, 2011 in Hanover, central Germany. (Getty Images)