“We have made sure that the NATO military authorities are investigating the incident to bring full clarity into what happened,” NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg said on Thursday.
France has publicly called out fellow NATO member Turkey for its actions, claiming that Ankara’s frigates were acting “extremely aggressive” towards one of its naval vessels.The French ship tried to check a “suspicious” freighter, believed to be smuggling arms into Libya in violation of a UN embargo.
But the cargo vessel, which was escorted by two Turkish frigates, tried to conceal its credentials and refused to say where it was going, while the warships directed their radars at the French ship.
After the incident, Paris accused Ankara of violating the embargo and fueling the Libyan conflict.
“The main obstacle to the establishment of peace and stability in Libya today lies in the systematic violation of the UN arms embargo, in particular by Turkey, despite the commitments made in Berlin,” the French Foreign Ministry said.
Turkey denied all the accusations, insisting that the French had sought to search the vessel in international waters, which “was not permitted.” It also blamed Paris for “exacerbating” the crisis in Libya by supporting the so-called Libyan National Army (LNA) led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar against the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) – which Ankara overtly backs.
Paris, however, maintains that it does not support any of the warring parties, but wants them to enter a truce.
France’s defense ministry said NATO can’t bury its head in the sand when it comes to Turkey’s recent behavior in Libya. It also accused the Turkish navy of harassing a French warship in the Mediterranean, a charge Ankara denies.
“We have known complicated moments in the alliance, but we can’t be an ostrich and can’t pretend there isn’t a Turkey problem at NATO. We have to see it, say it, and handle it,” a ministry official said ahead of a NATO summit on Wednesday.
As the French frigate queried the identity of the Turkish freighter, the vessels blocked its signal, cut the tracking system, and veiled its ID number. The French ministry described this maneuver as “extremely aggressive.”
“We cannot accept that an ally behaves like this, does this against a NATO ship under NATO command leading a NATO mission,” the official said, warning that the incident will be discussed in upcoming talks with the military bloc’s defense ministers.
Earlier, on Monday, France had called for talks among NATO allies on Turkey’s role in Libya. Paris accused Ankara of thwarting cease-fire efforts by breaking the arms embargo.
In response, Turkey slammed France’s “dark and inexplicable” policy on Libya and accused it of intensifying the crisis by providing support to the forces of commander Khalifa Haftar.
Haftar recently suffered defeats on the ground against the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA), which is supported by Ankara.
Another point of tension within the alliance derives from the continuing blockage by Turkey of NATO’s defense plan for the Baltic countries and Poland, despite a deal signed by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and other NATO leaders last year.