ANKARA – Hürriyet Daily News with wires
The new secretary-general of NATO, whose appointment was long objected to by Turkey, has said problems in Turkish-Greek relations are affecting the alliance’s efforts in Afghanistan and Africa.
"It is my intention to raise the question of better cooperation between Turkey and Greece during my visit to both capitals this week," Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen was quoted as telling reporters at NATO headquarters in Brussels.
"I know it is a bilateral issue between the two countries, but we have come to the point, where it is causing us problems in our missions," he said without actually mentioning Cyprus, which is at the center of the poor relations between the two NATO members.
Rasmussen, who assumed the NATO top spot this month, will head to Athens on Wednesday before continuing on to Ankara on Thursday, a NATO spokeswoman said.
During his visit, Anders Fogh Rasmussen will be received by President Abdullah Gül and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Rasmussen will also meet the foreign and defense ministers and Chief of General Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ. He is scheduled to participate in an iftar dinner, at which Prime Minister Erdoğan will also be present, said the Turkish Foreign Ministry in a written statement. On the occasion of the visit, the current issues on NATO’s agenda will be covered during the talks, the statement said.
During the interview, Rasmussen gave specific examples of how NATO's operations are being hurt by poor relations between Athens and Ankara.
"In Afghanistan, NATO cannot conclude an agreement to support EU police," he said. "Off the Horn of Africa both NATO and the EU have naval missions in the same area against piracy. But we have no agreement on who will do what or how to support each other."
Those are just two examples of how "these problems have spread far beyond Turkey and Greece," he stressed.
The former Danish prime minister told reporters that he hoped "it is possible to embark on a more pragmatic approach that will increase the security in our missions and make our efforts more effective.
"Turkey is a very important member of the alliance and therefore it is one of the first countries I visit as new secretary-general," said Rasmussen.
"It is one of my priorities to build a stronger partnership with the Arab and Central Asian countries. To that end, Turkey is a key player," he said. In Ankara, Rasmussen is expected to give messages to the Muslim world.
Turkey "plays a key role" in supporting NATO's efforts in Afghanistan, with its strong political contacts with the leaderships in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Rasmussen said.
"We are also accelerating our efforts to train the Afghan army... I hope Turkey along with other nations can contribute more to this crucial part of our mission," he said.
"If we do not succeed, there is a clear risk extremism will spread quickly into Central Asia and further. Turkey, like all of us, cannot afford that."
When his name was first floated around, Turkey had threatened to veto Rasmussen because of fears that his appointment as NATO chief could become a focus of anti-Western protest in Afghanistan and other Muslim countries because he refused to apologize to the Muslim world due to the 2006 cartoon crisis that erupted in Denmark when he was prime minister. The row over Rasmussen's appointment, which overshadowed NATO's 60th anniversary summit in Strasbourg in April, was only resolved after Turkey was promised senior military command posts and the role of the alliance's deputy secretary general.