Turkey has launched a bitter attack on French president Nicolas Sarkozy's and France's leadership of the military campaign against Libyan leaderMuammar Gaddafi, accusing the French of lacking a conscience in their conduct in the Libyan operations.
The vitriolic criticism, from both the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the president, Abdullah Gül followed attacks from the Turkish government earlier this week and signalled an orchestrated attempt by Ankara to wreck Sarkozy's plans to lead the air campaign against Gaddafi.
With France insisting that Nato should not be put in political charge of the UN-mandated air campaign, Turkey has come out emphatically behind sole Nato control of the operations.
The row came as France confirmed that one of its fighter jets had destroyed a Libyan air force plane, the first to breach the no-fly zone since it was imposed on 19 March. The Libyan G2/Galeb trainer aircraft was destroyed by an air-to-ground missile just after it landed at an air base near the rebel-held town of Misrata, a French military spokesman said.
The clash between Turkey and France over Libya is underpinned by acute frictions between Erdogan and Sarkozy, both impetuous and mercurial leaders who revel in the limelight, by fundamental disputes over Ankara's EU ambitions, and by economic interests in north Africa.
The confrontation is shaping up to be decisive in determining the outcome of the bitter infighting over who should inherit command of the Libyan air campaign from the Americans and could come to a head at a major conference in London next week of the parties involved.
Using incendiary language directed at France in a speech in Istanbul, Erdogan said: "I wish that those who only see oil, gold mines and underground treasures when they look in [Libya's] direction, would see the region through glasses of conscience from now on."
President Gül reinforced the Turkish view that France and others were being driven primarily by economic interests. "The aim [of the air campaign] is not the liberation of the Libyan people," he said. "There are hidden agendas and different interests."
Earlier this week, Claude Guéant, the French interior minister who was previously Sarkozy's chief adviser, outraged the Muslim world by stating that the French president was "leading a crusade" to stop Gaddafi massacring Libyans.
Erdogan denounced the use of the word crusade yesterday, blaming those, France chief among them, who are opposed to Turkey joining the EU.
Senior Nato officials are meeting in Brussels for the fourth day in a row to try to hammer out an agreement on who should assume command of the no-fly zone over Libya from the Americans who are determined to relinquish command within days.
Sarkozy has agreed to give Nato military planners operational command of the campaign, but refused to grant the alliance political and strategic control, insisting this should be vested in the broader "coalition of the willing" taking part.
Turkey has responded by blocking Nato planning operations for Libya while stressing that Nato should be given "sole command", senior Nato diplomats said.
Turkey, Nato's second biggest army after the US and its only Muslim member, appears bent on winning the argument. It is already taking part in Nato patrols in the Mediterranean to police an arms embargo on Libya. It wants to limit and shorten the air campaign and proscribe ground attacks on Libya by Nato aircraft. If Nato is given political command of the air effort, Turkey would be able to exercise a veto in a system run on consensus.
The US's top military officer in Europe, Admiral James Stavridis, Nato's supreme commander Europe, has gone to Ankara to try to mediate a deal.
The Turks are incensed at repeated snubs by Sarkozy. The French failed to invite Turkey to last Saturday's summit in Paris which presaged the air strikes. French fighters taking off from Corsica struck the first blows. The Turkish government accused Sarkozy of launching not only the no-fly zone, but his presidential re-election campaign.
While the dispute over Libya is substantive and political, it also appears highly personal, revealing the bad blood simmering between the French president and the Turkish prime minister.
Sarkozy went to Turkey last month for the first time in four years as president. But the visit was repeatedly delayed and then downgraded from a state presidential event. He stayed in Turkey for five hours.
"Relations between Turkey and France deserve more than this," complained Erdogan. "I will speak with frankness. We wish to host him as president of France. But he is coming as president of the G20, not as that of France."
While the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, is also opposed to Turkey joining the EU, she has voiced her objections moderately. Sarkozy has declared loudly that culturally Turkey does not belong in Europe, but in theMiddle East.
France has blocked tranches of Ankara's EU negotiations on the grounds that it should not be seen as ever-fit for membership.