|Gul said ‘we are categorically opposed to have a country named [as a threat]’ [EPA]|
Abdullah Gul, the Turkish president, has said that a Europe-wide ballistic missile shield planned by Nato must not be aimed at Iran, ahead of his attendance at a summit of the military alliance in Lisbon.
“We are categorically opposed to have a country named [as a threat] and our request appears to have been accepted,” he told reporters before leaving Ankara, the Turkish capital.
“Turkey cannot join a project that is aimed at a specific country,” Gul said, stressing that Nato was a defensive alliance aimed at defending its members against any ballistic threat and is not an organisation designed “to intimidate and threaten”.
“The project must cover all [Nato] members without exception … It will not be aimed at Iran, we said it,” the Turkish president said, adding that Ankara hoped that its request will be endorsed by other Nato allies at the summit.
Leaders of the 28-member organisation, who are holding talks in the capital of Portugal on Friday and Saturday, were set to endorse plans to launch the new missile shield on Friday.
Diplomats said there had been intense debate in the run-up to the summit about whether Iran should be targeted as a specific threat in the public document they adopt.
The US has asked Turkey, a Nato-member, to host some of the radar defences and to approve the proposal for a Europe-wide defense network.
Turkey is mindful of its delicate position with neighbouring Iran and has said it will refuse to sign a Nato document that names Iran as the threat in the final declaration.
Anita McNaught, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Istanbul, said: “The compromise that Nato seems to have arrived at, even ahead of this meeting, is that no countries will be cited and the stress will be on this being a defensive system and not an offensive one.
“[Turkey has] worked extremely hard in this region to deal with the perception of threat among its neighbours, to de-escalate the sense of jeopardy and danger and defensiveness and offensiveness … that has caused so many problems.
“It doesn’t want the Nato defence shield to ramp this whole process up again.”
McNaught said that Turkey also wanted to make sure that the system would in no way be used to protect Israel from attack.
She said: “It [Turkey] wants to be clear that this system is for the defence of territories from Turkey’s eastern border, westward. It wants to be sure this is not a ‘proxy’ defence system for Israel.
“It does not want any of the intelligence gathered through this system to be shared with Israel.”
Discussing the shield plan earlier this week, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Nato secretary-general, said that there was “no reason to name specific countries [as a threat]”.
“The fact is that more than 30 countries have, or are aspiring to get missile technologies with a range sufficient to hit targets in the Euro-Atlantic area,” he said.
Nato wants to link existing or future national missile defence systems to create an umbrella that would protect all of Europe’s population and territory, at a cost of less than $273m, officials say.
Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president, who will attend the summit on Saturday has fought against the missile shield as a menace to his country’s own nuclear deterrence.
Analysts say Nato leaders plan to defuse this opposition by inviting Russia to join the defence shield, extending its protection across Russian territory.