NATO invited Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari to its upcoming summit in Chicago, a development that has raised hopes that Pakistan may be ready to re-open its border to US and NATO military supplies dispatched to neighboring Afghanistan.
Pakistan closed its border after 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed in US air strikes on the Afghan border in November. The incident further strained Pakistani-US ties amid accusations in the US that Pakistan supports Taliban militants in Afghanistan. A spokesman for the Pakistani Embassy in Washington confirmed on Tuesday that Zardari will attend the May 20-21 summit.
Turkey has close ties with both Afghan and Pakistani governments and has spearheaded efforts for peace between the two countries, whose ties are often strained due to Afghan mistrust that Pakistan supports the Taliban.
Afghanistan is one of the main agenda items for NATO's Chicago summit, where alliance members will further discuss plans to withdraw most of their troops by the end of 2014. Member states are expected to discuss ways to continue supporting Afghanistan beyond 2014, following the end of NATO's peacekeeping mission there.
The Turkish official speaking to reporters on condition of anonymity said Turkey will continue supporting Afghanistan beyond 2014 through a military training mission. Turkey is determined to continue the training mission with or without NATO, the official said.
Gül, Hollande to have first meeting at NATO summit
The official also confirmed that President Abdullah Gül, who will represent Turkey at the summit, will have his first talks with François Hollande, France's newly elected president.
Turkey hopes that Hollande's election victory against his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, might pave the way for a revival of its stalled bid to join the EU. Sarkozy, a staunch opponent of Turkish accession, blocked accession negotiations on five chapters that Paris says are directly related to accession. Turkish and European diplomats now expect that the French blockade may now be lifted since Hollande is known to have a more favorable view of Turkish membership than Sarkozy.
The NATO summit is also expected to tackle the crisis in Syria, according to the diplomat. Responding to questions, the official said Turkey had no plans to invoke the “collective defense” clause, Article 5 of the NATO charter, over a recent border incident in which two Turkish nationals were injured during a border clash with opposition forces. This is because there is no threat from Syria to Turkey that should be dealt with under Article 5. But the official said there are consultations among NATO members regarding the crisis under Article 4.
The official also said a Turkish general is expected to be appointed to a command center for NATO's ballistic missile defense system. The alliance is expected to announce an “interim” missile defense capacity during the Chicago summit.