French minister says opposition to Eurocorps in Kosovo

PARIS, Jan 28, 2000 -- (Reuters) Defense Minister Alain Richard has told French parliamentarians that only one NATO member state was now opposed to the five-nation Eurocorps taking charge of NATO's Kosovo command later this year.

According to a brief written summary of his remarks to a closed-door meeting of the National Assembly's defense committee earlier this week, Richard said "...most (NATO) allies have now approved and only a single nation is still showing reticence."

The summary was circulated to the press on Thursday. No further comment was immediately available from Richard's office.

Diplomatic sources in Brussels, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the NATO member Richard was referring to was Turkey, which is determined not to be excluded from the European Union's new Security and Defense Initiative.

Assignment of Eurocorps to Kosovo would be a showcase development for the ESDI project.

Senior NATO military officials have advised the alliance's political leaders, however, that there are also some objective military drawbacks to giving Eurocorps the KFOR command job, indicating it would be essentially their political decision.

Turkey was recognized as a potential candidate for European Union membership only last month after a long and bruising political battle. Backed by key NATO members, it has said it will resist ESDI unless assured it will not be excluded from another European club.

Although the United States has been cool to European efforts to develop independent military means, Richard gave no hint that Washington opposed the Eurocorps Kosovo headquarters idea.

Senior French officers said last month they expected a quick decision to put Eurocorps in charge of NATO's 48,000-strong KFOR peacekeeping force in July, or as early as April if needed.

The five Eurocorps countries - France, Germany, Spain, Belgium and Luxembourg - are eager for the experience for their Strasbourg-based Eurocorps headquarters staff.

The Allied Command Europe's Rapid Reaction Corps led KFOR into Kosovo under British Lieutenant-General Sir Mike Jackson in June, and the LANDCENT command under German General Klaus Reinhardt took over in October. Its mandate expires in April.

According to the summary of Richard's statement, Eurocorps would take over only 35 percent of KFOR headquarters jobs.

Last month Britain added its weight to the bid to put Eurocorps in charge of the Kosovo mission despite some concern in NATO that it was not yet fit for the alliance's biggest job.

London's backing for the Paris-Berlin initiative was further proof that the European Union's three major powers were united in a fast-moving drive to raise the EU's military profile in continental crisis management and wanted to showcase it.

Some U.S. leaders have been especially uneasy at the European Union's decision in Helsinki last month to create a 50,000-60,000-strong European rapid reaction force.

[URL may be different next day if article is archived]