Turks threaten to block Nato's eastern push

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Turkey could veto Nato expansion if its long-standing ambition to join the Western European Union, the alliance's European arm, is denied, according to speakers at a conference last weekend.

Turkey sees membership of the WEU as a stepping stone to membership of the EU, and is irritated at the haste with which Nato is preparing to admit favoured East European countries while ignoring its sensitivities.

Although Ankara has expressed its concern through diplomatic channels, last weekend marked a significant heightening of public anger at what is seen as Turkey's unjust exclusion from the European top table.

The Antalya conference on security and co-operation - an annual international meeting organised by the Atlantic Council of Turkey - was addressing the expansion of European security institutions in the light of imminent Nato expansion.

Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister, Tansu Ciller, cabled the conference saying: "Enlargement processes of Nato, the EU and WEU should evolve in a parallel manner ... it is not realistic or justifiable that Turkey, an ally of the West for 44 years, is denied the European perspective while at the same time we are expected to enter into additional alliance commitments when Nato's enlargement is concluded.

"Our allies should understand that lack of responsiveness in this connection can lead to a backlash in Turkish public opinion and the parliament which may prove difficult to contain." The decision to admit new members must be ratified by the parliaments of all 16 current Nato members. The last sentence of the Ciller telegram suggests the Turks might refuse.

The first new states, possibly Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, may be invited to join next spring and could be admitted to Nato on its 50th anniversary in April 1999.

Bayan Mustafa Kalemli, the President of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey, said: "Are we going to be a prim and proper little boy waiting in the queue while the spoilt brats of Europe get what they don't really deserve?"

To applause, he continued: "We need Europe but Europe also needs us and we are not accustomed to being told things like that. We are a proud nation. Please do not try Turkey's patience. That will be detrimental to all."

What angers the Turks particularly is the prospect that the new entrants to Nato may gain EU membership in 2002, thus possibly leaping into the EU ahead of Turkey, which has been a loyal ally of the West for so long.

Speakers at the conference stressed that full WEU membership was confined to EU member states and that the Nato military guarantee to Turkey was not affected. However, Mr Kalemli said: "So long as Turkey is not a full member of the WEU, the Turkish parliament will not allow it to participate in WEU manoeuvres."

The WEU is developing a role in peace-keeping and disaster relief but is incapable of guaranteeing security in the event of war, which only Nato can do. "As the secular country that Ataturk founded we are in Europe. We cannot accept double standards any more," Mr Kalemli said.