France has informed NATO that it is suspending its involvement in a naval operation in the Mediterranean after the results of an investigation into an incident between French and Turkish warships, an Armed Forces Ministry official said on Wednesday.
Turkey’s ambassador to France Ismail Hakki Musa had earlier told French senators that Paris was withdrawing after the investigation into the incident had been inconclusive and did not back Paris’ claims.
Ties between NATO allies France and Turkey have soured in recent weeks over Libya, Northern Syria and drilling in the eastern Mediterranean.
France has been especially angry after accusing Turkish warships of being aggressive towards its Courbet warship after it tried to inspect a vessel in June that it suspected was violating a United Nations arms embargo on Libya. The Courbet was operating in the NATO Sea Guardian operation.
NATO opened an investigation after France protested during a meeting of alliance defense ministers in June.
An official from the French Armed Forces Ministry said a letter had been sent to NATO on Tuesday outlining four demands: a reaffirmation by alliance members of their commitment to respecting the embargo, ensuring NATO call signals were not used by countries during national missions, better coordination between NATO and EU missions enforcing the embargo and putting in place mechanisms to avoid similar incidents in the future.
“While waiting to move ahead on these demands, we have decided to temporarily withdraw our assets from Operation Sea Guardian,” the official said.” It doesn’t make sense to keep our assets … with allies who do not respect the embargo.”
France has said that on June 10 Turkish warships flashed their radar lights three times at the Courbet and that Turkish sailors had also put on bullet-proof vests and stood behind their light weapons during the incident.
Musa denied the French account telling senators that it was the French warship that had been aggressive. He said the ship in question had been carrying humanitarian aid.
(Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Richard Lough and Angus MacSwan)