France, Belgium, Germany veto NATO defence plan for Turkey

France, Belgium and Germany have vetoed plans by NATO to prepare to defend Turkey if there is a war against Iraq

France, Belgium and Germany have vetoed plans by NATO to prepare to defend Turkey in case of war with Iraq.

The U.S. has been pushing for members to plan a defence that would have included sending missiles and surveillance planes to Turkey.

The U.S. asked the alliance last month for various kinds of support in the event of a war against Iraq.

Alliance officials proposed a plan involving deploying Patriot anti-missile batteries and surveillance planes to help defend Turkey from a possible military response from Iraq.

But France and Belgium have objected, saying beginning military planning would imply that diplomatic efforts to disarm Iraq have already failed.

Germany agreed with the position and NATO was split down the middle.

On the weekend, U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the refusal of France, Germany and Belgium to allow defence plans for Turkey was "inexcusable."

"Turkey will not be hurt," Rumsfeld vowed in Munich. "The United States and the countries in NATO will go right ahead and do it.

"What will be hurt will be NATO, not Turkey."

"I'm not seeking today to minimize the seriousness of this issue," said NATO Secretary General George Robertson. "It is certainly serious."

Ultimately, France, Germany and Belgium might have to back down in the face of Turkey's invocation of the self-defence provisions of the NATO treaty. Extra air defences are part of a formal request made by Ankara to the alliance.

Robertson said a NATO defence strategy for Turkey in case of war in Iraq is inevitable.

"The question is not if, but when, to begin the planning."