Brussels (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo used his final NATO meeting this week to sharply criticise Turkey, saying its purchase of a Russian weapons system was “a gift” to Moscow, according to five diplomats and officials.
At the confidential foreign ministers’ video conference on Tuesday, Pompeo said Turkey was undermining NATO’s security and creating instability in the eastern Mediterranean in a dispute with Greece and non-NATO member Cyprus over gas resources, said the diplomats and officials, who asked not to be named as the discussions were confidential.
While the U.S. and other NATO allies have long been odds over Turkey’s military intervention in Syria and Libya, Pompeo’s remarks underscored the depth of tensions at the Western alliance that many experts say dangerously weakens it.
Pompeo, who leaves office in January as U.S. President Donald Trump’s term ends, also told Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu that Turkey was wrong to send paid Syrian fighters to Libya, as the U.S. Defense Department concluded in a report in July, and also to the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh.
That prompted further chiding of Turkey by allies in the meeting, including France, Greece and even tiny Luxembourg, as well as defiant counter-accusations from Cavusoglu, said the diplomats.
The meeting tone was described as “measured” but “more confrontational” than is usually the case at NATO.
The unity of NATO “was not possible if an ally copied Russian actions”, a diplomat cited French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian as saying in his intervention, referring to Moscow’s fuelling of proxy wars by sending in mercenaries.
A U.S. official, speaking on background, said there had been a “frank, closed door discussion” but declined to give details.
“The United States has urged Turkey on multiple occasions to resolve the S-400 (Russian weapons system) issue, cease using Syrian fighters in foreign conflicts, and cease provocative actions in the Eastern Mediterranean,” the official said.
Turkey’s Cavusoglu said on Thursday he could not comment on a confidential meeting.
“I just outlined the differences between the two countries and outstanding issues, he told a public event. “We had to purchase (a weapons system) from Russia because we could not from our allies,” he added.
Turkish sources with knowledge of the meeting said that Pompeo made “unjust accusations” and that were was no united front against Turkey. Turkey was also open to talks with Greece in the eastern Mediterranean with no preconditions, they said.
European Union leaders will consider sanctions on Turkey, which is host to U.S. nuclear warheads, over the Mediterranean gas dispute on Dec. 10.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg spoke by telephone on Wednesday with French President Emmanuel Macron, whose office said that the pair “had the opportunity to directly and in confidence address the concerns expressed by a growing number of allies in regard to Turkey’s strategic choices”.
Tensions threaten to overshadow a new high-level report on NATO’s future that was released this week.
Stoltenberg is seeking to address the tensions with Turkey in part by making recommendations to NATO leaders next year on how to make the alliance stronger politically, including creating a code of conduct to bind allies together.