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Libya operations expose France-Turkey diplomatic rift

Text by Gaëlle LE ROUX

Latest update : 2011-03-29

The fraught relationship between Ankara and Paris, which staunchly opposes Turkey’s accession to the EU, is laid bare as the two countries come together under the NATO umbrella to decide how Libyan operations will play out.

NATO countries agreed on Sunday to take control of military operations in Libya from the US-led coalition following tough negotiations in which Turkey had initially opposed any foreign interference in the country.

France and Turkey, in particular, were at loggerheads on the issue of political control of the ongoing operations.

Paris was keen that the coalition (USA, France and UK-led) would hold the political initiative, while NATO coordinated the military side of things.

Ankara, meanwhile, had initially wanted to use its NATO veto to limit allied operations against Libyan infrastructure and to prevent innocent civilians from being killed in the crossfire.

Diplomatic friction

For many observers, Turkey’s reluctance to engage fully in Libya stems from it’s historically complicated links with France, a country that has vocally opposed Ankara’s accession to the European Union.

Turkey, the only Muslim NATO member and an increasingly powerful voice in the Arab world, has taken a particularly dim view of France’s leadership in Libya.

“The fact that France is trying to set the agenda in Libya exasperates the Turks,” said Didier Billion, Turkey specialist at the Paris-based Institute of International and Strategic Relations (IRIS).

“Ankara was opposed to intervention in Libya – but now that the process has begun, it would rather it becomes a fully NATO-led operation than one led by the French.”

Diplomatically, France has not shined in Turkish eyes in recent weeks, analysts said. In late February, French President Nicolas Sarkozy was given a chill welcome in a whirlwind visit to Ankara during which he stayed on the ground for a few brief hours.

“I think this is not a visit that corresponds to the height of the friendship between France and Turkey," Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said at the time. "Turkey and Turkish-French relations deserve more than that."

'…a stupid mistake'

On March 19, the day after the UN resolution on Libya, France committed yet another diplomatic faux pas in “omitting” to invite Turkey to an international summit in Paris.

“This was a huge mistake,” Didier Billion said. “It was an impolite slight against Ankara as well as being a stupid mistake.”

He added: “The French executive has a tendency not to trust the Turks. They don’t like their growing influence and they don’t like them taking the initiative in the region. It is an absurd diplomatic position to take.”

If there is a growing race to impose leadership in the region, Ankara is determined to be a front-runner. Turkey will be at Tuesday’s NATO meeting in London and is expected to push its agenda hard.

“We are the only country to maintain contacts with both sides in the Libyan conflict,” said Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek, and in this privileged position Ankara says it is determined to be the country that stops the situation in Libya becoming "a new Iraq or Afghanistan".

Date created : 2011-03-29


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