BRUSSELS (Reuters) – A NATO investigation into a naval standoff between French and Turkish ships in June was deemed too sensitive to be discussed in public and does not attribute blame as Paris and Ankara wage a war of words diplomats told Reuters.
The question highlights NATO’s difficulties with Turkey, also at odds with Greece on energy rights and with the alliance leader, the United States.
On June 10, a French frigate on a NATO mission attempted to inspect a Tanzanian-flagged cargo ship suspected of smuggling arms to Libya.
France claims the frigate was harassed by Turkish Navy ships escorting the freighter and accuses Turkey of violating a UN arms embargo. Turkey denies this and says the frigate was aggressive.
It now seems unlikely that the investigation could resolve the dispute. A NATO official confirmed the report was complete, but declined to comment.
“He was swept under the carpet,” said a European diplomat.
Another said NATO’s determination to keep Turkey by its side, due to its military influence and strategic location, meant there was no willingness to point fingers.
And so both sides claim victory, and accusations continue to be exchanged.
French President Emmanuel Macron lamented last week the “unacceptable behavior” of the government of his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan. Erdogan retorted: “Don’t play with Turkey. “
The men also disagree over Greece, which is challenging Turkey’s right to explore for hydrocarbons in waters claimed by Greece or Cyprus.
France has obviously joined the Greek naval exercises.
Here too, NATO is trying to do what it can to avoid unfortunate incidents, through “deconfliction” talks.
“It is not known whether there will be a result in these negotiations,” said a senior NATO official. “Every declaration from Paris, Ankara or Athens makes it even more difficult for the allies to come back from their positions.”
Disputes with Turkey within NATO are not new.
Last year Turkey refused for a time to support a defense plan for the Baltic states and Poland unless NATO offered political support for Ankara’s fight against a Syrian Kurdish militia backed by Washington.
Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400 air defense system also appears to be a snub to the United States and other allies, but it seems local tensions can be overlooked for now.
“Part of it is that Macron wants to be the big man in Europe, which is the same with Erdogan,” said an American envoy to Europe. “There is a solution to be found with the Turks.”