Turkey Resists NATO's Missile Defense System With NATO members preparing for a summit in Portugal this week, Turkey is wrestling with the question of how to respond to U.S.-backed plans for a missile defense system to protect member countries against attack from states such as Iran. Turkey remains committed to NATO but rejects Washington's desire to name Iran as a primary threat.
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Turkey Resists NATO's Missile Defense System

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Turkey Resists NATO's Missile Defense System

Turkey Resists NATO's Missile Defense System

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When U.S. policymakers look at Pakistan and Afghanistan, they also see other countries in the region, including Iran. Iran is one of the reasons the U.S. is pursuing plans to develop a missile defense system to protect the NATO allies from attack.

That missile defense system is expected do come up this week, when NATO leaders meet for a summit in Portugal. But the issue poses a dilemma for NATO member Turkey.

NPR's Peter Kenyon reports from Istanbul.

PETER KENYON: On paper, a shield against ballistic missiles seems to be a comforting and welcome solution to potential threats from abroad. But when it comes to putting the military hardware for such a system in place, the response can be downright chilly.

(Soundbite of protesters chanting)

KENYON: Turkish protesters gathered in Istanbul recently to denounce the proposed missile shield. Veteran activist Ahmet Faruk Unsal says Turkey is tired of being used by the West to promote policies it disagrees with.

Mr. AHMET FARUK UNSAL (Activist): (Through Translator) Because really, the missile shield is not about nuclear protection. It's geared toward protecting Israel, the only nuclear power in the region. In addition, I believe that a missile shield here would create a chill between Turkey and other countries in the region.

KENYON: Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu echoed that last sentiment earlier this month, saying that Turkey perceives no belligerent threat from its neighbors, including Iran, and will not be recast in the role of NATO front-line state, as it was during the Cold War.

At the same time, though, he insisted that Turkey remains a loyal NATO member and respects the alliance's security decisions.

Missile defense was also hugely unpopular in Poland and the Czech Republic, when the Bush administration initially wanted to put interceptor missiles and radar stations in those countries. Russia objected furiously to having the system so close to its borders. And after President Obama took office, he moved to make missile defense a NATO project instead, with more of an emphasis on blocking potential short and medium-range missile threats from Iran.

Iran and Middle East analyst Alptekin Dursunoglu says many Turks see those changes as cosmetic, and are disappointed with an administration that promised real change.

Mr. ALPTEKIN DURSUNOGLU (Analyst, Iran and Middle East): (Through Translator) Generally in Turkey, this is seen as a repackaged version of the old unilateral U.S. missile defense proposal, presented through NATO, in order to corner Turkey into accepting it.

KENYON: But Dursunoglu and others believe Ankara will agree to the proposal if a few conditions are met, including not naming Iran, Syria or Russia as specific threats, and not sharing any information from this system with non-NATO members - meaning Israel.

Hugh Pope, the Istanbul-based analyst for the International Crisis Group, says this week's NATO summit is coming at a delicate time for Turkey. He says it's important for the West to remember that Turkey and Iran are primarily competitors and rivals, not allies.

But he says it's also important for Turkey to consider that its resistance to missile defense, together with its no vote on Iran sanctions and its chilly relations with Israel, are being taken in some NATO capitals as signs that Ankara may no longer be the solid NATO ally it always was.

Mr. HUGH POPE (Director, International Crisis Group): Which is actually not the case - that has not happened. But Turkey has got to be very careful about the perceptions, 'cause these perceptions are like a supertanker: They turn slowly, but they're very hard to bring back to where they were. And Turkey must also really impress NATO and the E.U. with its reliability.

KENYON: Analysts say none of Turkey's conditions for supporting the missile shield seem insurmountable. But observers will be watching the NATO gathering closely to see if the long-running alliance is showing any cracks.

Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul.

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