BRUSSELS, Nov 16, 2006 (AFP) – NATO’s operations will not be affected by a decision by the Turkish army to suspend its military relations with France, officials at the defense alliance said Thursday.
Turkish army chief General Ilker Basbug made the announcement late Wednesday in retaliation to a French parliamentary bill which would make it a crime to deny that the World War I massacre of Armenians by Ottoman Turks constituted genocide.
“It’s a bilateral issue. It won’t affect their relations at NATO,” an official in Brussels said.
Both French and Turkish troops were operating in Kabul, he added. “They’re there today,” he stressed.
French and Turkish troops operate side-by-side in the Afghan capital, under the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), combating a fierce insurgency by Taliban rebels.
However, General Basbug told reporters in Ankara that high-level visits between the two countries had stopped, according to Turkey’s semi-official Anatolia news agency.
Turkey has warned that bilateral ties will suffer a great blow if France adopts the bill, which foresees one year in jail for anyone who denies that Armenians were the victims of genocide by Ottoman Turks between 1915-17.
The bill was approved by the lower house of the French parliament last month but still needs the approval of the Senate and the president to take effect.
Armenians claim up to 1.5 million of their people were slaughtered in orchestrated killings during the last years of the Ottoman Empire, modern Turkey's predecessor.
But Turkey rejects the use of the term “genocide”, saying some 300,000 Armenians died when the Ottoman Empire fell apart, but at least as many Turks did too.
“This doesn't concern NATO,” a diplomat at the military organization agreed. “We don't foresee any difficulties in the NATO sphere. There won’t be any impact on the functioning of the Alliance.”
Top military officers from NATO and Partner nations were completing two days of talks in Brussels Thursday, two weeks ahead of a NATO Summit in Riga, to shape and inform military advice for the North Atlantic Council.