Syria cautions on Patriots, NATO reassures Kremlin
ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
Rebels run toward a forward fighting position in Idlib as clashes continue with al-Assad forces. AFP photo
Syria has reacted angrily to Turkey’s desire to deploy NATO Patriot missiles along the countries’ shared border, calling the move a “provocation” amid alliance attempts to assure Moscow that the action is merely defensive.
“Syria holds [Turkey’s premier] responsible for the militarization of the situation on the border between Syria and Turkey, and the increase of tension and destruction to the detriment of the Syrian and Turkish peoples,” a Syrian Foreign Ministry official said in a recently released statement. Russia has also called the planned deployment “very wrong.”
Ankara and NATO have reiterated that the deployment of Patriot missiles in Turkey along the Syrian border is for defensive purposes only, in a bid to ease Moscow’s fears.
“There is no situation which requires any country, particularly Russia, to express any concern on this issue,” Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said Nov. 23, stressing that missiles would be located there solely for defensive purposes.
The minister stressed that those aware of the technical details of the issue, including Russia, know that this is a defense system. On the other hand, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has described Russia’s harsh reaction to NATO’s deployment of Patriot missiles near Turkey’s border with Syria as “very wrong,” saying that such a reaction almost amounted to an intervention in Turkey’s domestic affairs.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov explained Moscow’s opposition in a telephone conversation with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen on Nov. 23. Lavrov “affirmed Russia’s concern about plans to increase military capabilities in the region,” the Foreign Ministry said. He reiterated Russia’s proposal for the establishment of a direct line of communication between Ankara and Damascus with the aim of avoiding incidents between the neighbors. “The main concern is that the more weapons there are, the greater the risk they will be used,” Lavrov said before the phone call.
Meanwhile, a NATO delegation composed of officials from the U.S., Germany and the Netherlands will visit Turkey and travel to the region where the missiles are to be located on Nov. 26.
When asked about debates over who would have command of the missile system, Davutoğlu briefly referred to NATO’s rules of engagement, which state that the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) of NATO will have the operational command responsibility of deployed air defense systems.
Reaction from Syria, Iran
“In the planning outlined within the framework of NATO, there is a system in which Turkey also takes part,” Davutoğlu said. In a swift response to Syrian officials who said that Turkey’s request to NATO for Patriot missiles was “a new act of provocation,” Davutoğlu noted that the Syrian regime should first stop its brutal attacks against its own people. In response to reporters’ questions at a joint press conference with South Sudan’s Foreign Minister Nhial Deng Nhial, Davutoğlu said that a planned NATO deployment of Patriot missiles in Turkey had become an “obligation” due to the escalation of the conflict.
A Syrian Foreign Ministry official put the blame on the Turkish government for the increase in tension.
“Syria holds Erdoğan responsible for the militarization of the situation on the border between Syria and Turkey, and the increase of tension and destruction to the detriment of the Syrian and Turkish peoples,” the official said. Iran’s Foreign Ministry said the request only “complicates” the conflict in the Arab country. “Not only does it not help resolve the situation in Syria but it will also aggravate and complicate the situation,” ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said, quoted on state television.