Turkey welcomes NATO’s support pledge on Syria issue

Turkey welcomes NATO’s support pledge on Syria issue

Sevil Erkuş - ANKARA
Turkey welcomes NATO’s support pledge on Syria issue

AA photo

Turkey welcomes a fresh support pledge by NATO to lend it military backing amid repeated Russian violations of Turkish airspace, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Tanju Bilgiç said on Oct. 9, while stressing that Turkey has yet to place such a demand. 

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg stated on Oct. 8 that the alliance could grant a “high readiness force” to Turkey, but Bilgiç said that would require a NATO council decision.

Ankara “has not asked for the deployment of a high readiness force to Turkey at this stage,” he added.

Turkey has asked Moscow that Russian officials visit the country to provide information about violations, but no delegation has yet visited, according to Bilgiç. 

Russia breached Turkish airspace on Oct. 3 and Oct. 4, prompting Ankara to convey Turkey’s rules of engagement along the Syrian border when the Russian ambassador was summoned on separate occasions, the Foreign Ministry spokesperson said. 

He added it is “hard to say there are differences at this stage” in the rules of engagement for either Russian or Syrian planes.

Turkey is continuing talks with NATO and its bilateral partners to enhance its defense capabilities, Bilgiç stated, noting that the discussions include Patriot missiles.

“Our national capabilities are sufficient for Turkey’s defense, but [we] are carrying out work with both NATO and bilateral allies to enhance our defense capability in the upcoming period,” he said, adding that Ankara asks “NATO to continue its visible presence” in Turkey.

The U.S. is set to withdraw its Patriot missile defense units from Gaziantep, while Germany’s batteries in Kahramanmaraş will be removed on Oct. 15, Bilgiç said, also noting that Spain’s batteries in Adana will remain in place until January 2016 but Madrid has yet to make a decision to extend the mission. 

Bilgiç also said NATO had yet to decide on the Patriot mission in Turkey but the issue is being reviewed due to Russia’s recent military sorties over Syria.

Turkish Defense Minister Vecdi Gönül has been in Brussels for a NATO defense ministers’ meeting, during which the issue was on the agenda, the spokesperson said. 

Meanwhile, Bilgiç also stressed that Ankara is concerned about the potential for a new wave of Syrian migrants arriving at its border following recent Russian air strikes in Syria. 

“With Russia’s air operations in recent weeks, there is naturally the potential for a wave of migrants to emerge. We are concerned about that,” he told reporters, adding that most of the Russian airstrikes in Syria had targeted the moderate opposition. 

Many Syrians recently arrived in the Atma camp in Syria across from the Turkish town of Reyhanlı following the start of Russia’s aerial campaign, Bilgiç noted.

He stressed that efforts must be channeled to reach a political solution in Syria to end the refugee crisis, elaborating on a plan recently offered by the EU to Turkey that seeks a settlement on the issue. He said the talks were ongoing for the EU’s proposal and underlined that Ankara wants “share of the burden, not a transfer of the burden in fair responsibility.”

A delegation headed by the European Commission’s general director of enlargement, Christian Danielsson, had talks in Ankara on Oct. 6-7 and met with Naci Koru, a deputy minister of foreign affairs, but there has yet to be an agreed text for the plan, Bilgiç said. 

EU officials have said the plan involved Ankara establishing new camps and boosting its coastguard to slow the flow of people to Europe. Brussels is also ready to give Turkey more money to deal with the burden of 2.2 million refugees, under the plan that European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker presented to Erdoğan on Oct. 5.

Meanwhile, Bilgiç also stated that Turkish Ambassador to Vienna Hasan Gögüş had returned to Austria after remarks by Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz.

Turkey had recalled Göğüş in April after the Austrian Parliament issued a statement recognizing and condemning the 1915 genocide of Armenians and other ethnic minorities in the Ottoman Empire.