BRUSSELS – Agence France-Presse
NATO urged Turkey and Austria on March 15 to settle a dispute over Ankara’s EU membership bid, which has led Turkey to block cooperation with the alliance’s partner countries.
Confirming press reports, a NATO
official said: “We regret the current situation and the impact it is having on all of our cooperation programs with partners.”
“NATO supports constructive dialogue between countries. We count on our ally Turkey and our partner Austria to solve their bilateral issue swiftly,” the official said.
Austrian Defense Ministry spokesman Stefan Hirsch confirmed to AFP that the “Turkish blockade of Austria’s partner programs with NATO
began several months ago.”
“It has no immediate impact on our missions in the western Balkans. But in the mid- to long-term, the blockade can lead to problems because it can hinder our ability to prepare new missions,” he said.
German daily Die Welt said the Turkish action effectively blocked all of NATO’s various cooperation programs with non-member states.
Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said March 15 NATO
must retain Turkey as a member despite soaring tensions over Ankara’s campaign for a controversial referendum.
Beyond Turkey’s strategic importance, von der Leyen warned that rupturing ties could give the democratic Turkish opposition to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
the sense the West was leaving it in the lurch.
“Turkey is not making it easy for us within NATO. But no one should believe that a Turkey outside NATO
would listen better to us or would be easier to deal with than a Turkey in NATO,” she told AFP.
Von der Leyen, who has served as Chancellor Angela Merkel’s defense chief since 2013, said that NATO
provided a platform for the West to “discuss - sometimes heatedly - our convictions about democracy and open society”.
She warned that allowing the current tensions with Ankara
to lead to a permanent rupture would have a negative impact on Turkish society.
“We must not abandon the many Turks who don’t want an expansion of the president’s powers with the upcoming referendum,” she said.