NATO missile defense plans

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

MARCO WERMAN: Another issue for NATO is a U.S. plan for a missile defense system in Europe and Turkey. But Turkey may complicate those plans. The BBC's Jonathan Head is in Istanbul. Jonathan, what is the complication?

JONATHAN HEAD: The complication is that Turkey is setting quite a lot of conditions for agreeing to join this missile plan and it's pretty important that Turkey does because of its geography. Turkey has always been a frontline state for NATO. It was, of course, during the Cold War where it bordered the Soviet Union and a number of Soviet allies. And, of course, it has a border with Iran as well and everyone assumes that Iran or the threat, a possible threat of Iranian missiles is one of the main motives behind creating this missile plan. Now one of the conditions Turkey has asked for and has actually got its way is it didn't want Iran named as a specific threat to NATO, and that's because Turkey's making great efforts to improve relations with Iran at the moment, one of the disagreements it has with the Obama administration. But it has got its way. There will be no mention of any specific countries being the reason for this missile threat. But it wants more than that. The Prime Minister has talked about wanting control over missiles based in Turkey. The U.S. will have that. They want one control center for this missile, a defense system probably based in Germany. The Turks are also asking that no intelligence that's gathered from this system should be shared with Israel. That could also be a thorny issue because Israel has traditionally been quite a close military partner of NATO's and the Turks are also asking for contributions towards their own purchase of patriot missile battery. So, there's a whole load of Turkish demands there, and I think they're going to slow down when negotiations on this missile defense system because Turkey's participation is really essential.

WERMAN: Well, controlling the missiles and backing off Iran by the West, I mean, those are pretty steep conditions. How likely is the U.S. and NATO to agree to any of them?

HEAD: I think they'll find a way to fudge it. I suspect even for Turkey, a lot of it is how they present it to the own public. I mean, opinions have really shifted over here. Turkey, of course, has this new foreign policy which is, you know, make friends with all your neighbors and that includes Iran, Syria and Iraq and Russia. But the public itself, I think, has become much more hostile to America's role int he world and much more skeptical about the NATO alliance and its value. So, I think, if a way can be packaged to make it seem as though Turkey's getting its way, that'll probably close the deal. Turkey is, effectively, trying to carve out a role for itself as an independent power in this region. And time and again, I think we're going to see its own interest and its perception of the way to handle things are going to conflict with those of Washington.

WERMAN: Jonathan, I'm just wondering. This very complicated position that Turkey is in right now, how much of it is really due to its geographic location right there, quite literally, on the bridge between the West and the Orient?

HEAD: I think there's been a complete reassessment of its position and I think that's really a big part of why it's got this new and rather more difficult to accommodate foreign policy. If you listen to the Foreign Minister Ahmet DavutoƄ?lu. He explains it quite clearly. He said, "Throughout the call of the Cold War, we were the end of the line. We were the frontline state for NATO but it meant that we were, effectively, hostile to every single one of our neighbors." And he said, "That isn't appropriate anymore. We don't want to be constantly daggers drawn with Iran and Syria and Russia and Greece. We want to trade with these people." This is a government that, first and foremost, cares about delivering economic growth and it's doing that very well. This is a very fast growing economy and it cares about being reelected. And this new foreign policy delivers what most of its people want which is better living standards and peace. And I think it's very realistic in that way. The problem is when it comes to dealing with a country like Iran, Turkey has a very different approach and it believes very strongly that negotiating and trying to bring Iran over is the way to deal with it. That's a very different perspective from the one adopted by Washington.

WERMAN: The BBC's Jonathan Head in Istanbul. Thanks for the Analysis.

HEAD: Thank you, Marco.