BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) – France, Germany and Belgium rejected a scaled-down U.S. proposal yesterday for NATO preparations in case of war in Iraq, prolonging the alliance’s worst internal crisis since the end of the Cold War.

NATO diplomats said the third day of emergency talks ended after about an hour and would resume today.

For the past month, the holdouts have blocked the start of military planning to help defend Turkey – the only NATO member bordering Iraq. France, Germany and Belgium say such a step could undercut U.N. efforts to resolve the Iraq crisis peacefully.

Washington and the 15 other NATO nations have reacted with increasingly harsh language, arguing the division weakens NATO’s solemn bond of mutual defense and sends a dangerous message of disunity to Saddam Hussein.

Diplomats had said the three holdouts still wanted to link any decision at NATO to Friday’s report to the U.N. Security Council on Iraq’s cooperation with U.N. weapons inspectors.

French President Jacques Chirac told his Turkish counterpart by phone yesterday that France “would assume its obligations if Turkey were really threatened,” said Chirac’s spokeswoman, Catherine Colonna, in Paris.

But he stuck to France’s position that it is not possible to make advance plans on Turkey’s defense in the absence of a U.N. Security Council decision to use force against Iraq.

NATO ambassadors received the compromise proposal at a 90-minute morning session, after a day of frantic telephone contacts among capitals. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer also made an unscheduled flight to Paris for talks on the Iraq crisis.

Formal talks resumed in Brussels at 8 p.m. and were over in about an hour.

The compromise deals solely with defensive measures for Turkey and cuts out peripheral requests, such as stepping up guards at U.S. bases in Europe and replacing any NATO troops on peacekeeping duty in the Balkans who may be moved to the Gulf.

“We entered a new phase of the discussions,” U.S. Ambassador Nicholas Burns said before the evening session began. But, he added, “It may take some time to get to the end.”

Turkey expected it would be accepted, according to a statement issued by the Foreign Ministry in Ankara.

Earlier, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder also said his country would honor its NATO commitments in case of war, but would not say when Turkey’s request to start preparations might be granted.

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