NATO chief urges allies to ‘look at broader picture’ amid row with Turkey over Syria

NATO chief urges allies to ‘look at broader picture’ amid row with Turkey over Syria

Serkan Demirtaş - BRUSSELS
NATO chief urges allies to ‘look at broader picture’ amid row with Turkey over Syria

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has advised allied countries to look at the broader picture that depicts the allies as standing together and protecting each other instead of being dwelled on the Turkish military operation into Syria, in remarks after NATO defense ministers had a frank and open discussion over the recent developments in northeastern Syria.

“Yes, there are different views on serious issues, but, at the same time, the broader picture is that NATO is standing together and NATO allies are standing together and protecting each other,” Stoltenberg told a press conference after the defense ministers from 29 members countries held a meeting in Brussels on Oct. 24.

The ministers discussed the latest developments in northeastern Syria where Turkey has launched a military operation against the YPG. Many allied countries have opposed to the operation on grounds that it could further destabilize the region and pave the way for the return of ISIL.

European allies have imposed arms embargos on Turkey while U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper continued his opposition to the Turkish operation although his administration comprised a deal with Turkey on the matter.

Stoltenberg characterized the discussion at the ministerial meeting as frank and open, admitting that there are “different views among allies”.

“But we focused on the way forward,” the NATO chief said, reiterating the need for a negotiated political solution to the Syrian crisis.

“Over the last week, we have seen significant reductions in violence. We agree we must build on this to make progress in our efforts to find a political solution to the conflict in Syria. And we fully support U.N.-led efforts to reach a political solution,” he said.

“There are different views, but we agree on several things, including that Turkey has legitimate security concerns. Also, the need of not jeopardizing, but preserving the gains we have made in the fight against our common enemy, ISIS. That’s extremely important,” he stressed, using another acronym for ISIL.

When asked about disagreements over Turkey’s operation and the reaction shown by many NATO allies against it, Stoltenberg said, “It’s always easy to be the secretary-general of NATO when we all agree on everything than when we see disagreements. That’s obvious. Having said that, it’s not the first time we have different views in NATO. We are an Alliance of 29 different Allies from both sides of the Atlantic.”

“The strength of NATO is that we have been able, always, to overcome those disagreements without lasting negative consequences for our Alliance. And we also have to understand that, yes, these are disagreements on a very serious situation in northeast Syria. But, at the same time, if we look at the broader picture, NATO has, over the last years, implemented the biggest reinforcement of our collective defense,” he added.

Germany informed allies about proposal

Stoltenberg informed that Germany’s Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer presented to NATO her proposal for an internationally protected security zone in northern Syria.

“She briefed allies on her thoughts on a way forward. And again, I think it is broad support for the idea of a political solution and also ways to try to engage the international community to support such a political solution,” he said.

The minister told reporters that the provided status quo in the region in the wake of Turkey’s deals with the U.S. and Russia was not satisfactory and there was a need of presence of an international force.

Spain may extend Patriot deployment

Stoltenberg held another press conference on Oct. 25 to conclude a two-day defense ministerial meeting in Brussels. The NATO chief was asked on how NATO will continue to augment the Turkish air space as part of the Active Fence operation after the Italian government decided to end the deployment of its SAMP/T batteries in Kahramanmaraş province of Turkey by the end of this year. 

Stoltenberg stressed that the Italian decision was taken in the spring of 2019 following a very long presence of the SAMP/T contingent on the Turkish lands and recalled that this operation was handled by allied nations on rotation. 

Along with the Italian SAMP/T systems, Spain has Patriot systems in Turkey since 2015. “I expect the decision for the extension of the Spanish systems will be taken as part of consultations at NATO and upon the invitation of Turkey,” he said.