Ankara not yet decided on France’s return to NATO

"Whether this decision needs to be put to a vote or not is still being evaluated in NATO," Babacan told reporters before departing for a security conference in Munich, where top US and European officials are discussing the issue. "It is more of a political matter than a legal one. Most of the NATO allies see this as a positive thing, but we are still evaluating it," he added.

France opposes Turkey's membership in the EU and has blocked the opening of five negotiation chapters directly related to accession. When French President Nicolas Sarkozy said he wanted France to resume its full role in NATO, many suggested that this could give Ankara a trump card to negotiate with France for a more favorable stance toward its EU bid. Government officials have said the two subjects are unrelated, Todays Zaman reported.

If no objection is raised, NATO members could agree to France's return to the alliance as early as an April summit in Strasbourg that will mark the 60th anniversary of the Western military pact. Alliance officials say there is no need for a consensus vote on the move if France decides to go ahead with it. "It is France's decision to decide politically whether it wants to take its full place in NATO's military structure," said NATO spokesman James Appathurai.

The United States and France have already agreed in principle that France should secure two top NATO posts in the event of its expected return, Reuters reported on Friday, quoting a diplomat. Under the agreement, French officials would head NATO's regional command headquarters in Lisbon, Portugal and its Allied Command Transformation (ACT) headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia -- the command center in charge of revamping Europe's Cold War protector to tackle 21st century security challenges.

Babacan also responded to questions about whether a joint statement released by foreign ministers from three Arab countries, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, this week was a warning to Turkey to stay away from Middle East affairs. The statement, which came at the end of a meeting to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the aftermath of Israel's attack on Gaza last month, said non-Arab parties should stay away. It was widely interpreted as a message to Iran, but some newspapers in Turkey have commented that it also appears to have been directed at Turkey, which has intensified its criticism of Israel in the wake of the Gaza offensive.

"It is impossible to construe it as directed at Turkey," said Babacan. " Turkey's policies are commended in our region and across the entire Arab world. We see this in both the public reactions and in our regular contacts with the leaders of these countries."

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