Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said on Wednesday that NATO is preparing to deploy Patriot missiles on Syrian border in Turkey, a development that could add a new dimension to the 19-month-old Syria crisis.
His remarks in Brussels follow statements by Turkish officials earlier in the day who said Turkey is in talks with the US and NATO over the deployment of Patriot missiles along its border with Syria.
“This issue is also coming up on the agenda within the framework of deliberations, preparations and contingency planning on the security of Turkey and NATO territories,” a diplomatic source told Today's Zaman, without elaborating.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, speaking during a visit to Indonesia, said Turkey has not made any request to NATO for missile deployment. “There has been no such request,” he told reporters.
Earlier, the Reuters news agency, quoting a senior Foreign Ministry official, said Ankara was to make an “imminent request” to NATO for the deployment of Patriot missiles, while the private NTV television reported that the request would be made in the coming days.
In Brussels, a NATO spokeswoman said the alliance has not received a request from Turkey yet, reiterating Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen's remarks earlier in the week that NATO will consider such a request when it is made by an ally. “As the secretary-general said on Monday, the allies will consider any request that is brought to the North Atlantic Council,” the spokeswoman was quoted as saying by Reuters.
Erdoğan said any initiative for the purchase of such missiles should go through him and not the Foreign Ministry. NATO offers such assistance to allies when their security is threatened but it does not sell weaponry to member states.
NATO deployed Patriot missile defense systems in Turkey twice in the past, responding to Turkish requests for protection in the course of the Iraqi war.
Erdoğan said Turkey expected NATO member US to take “different” steps in regard to Syria, adding that he will have “top-level discussions” on this issue.
Turkish officials have said Ankara, which seeks the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, expects the US administration to get involved more actively in efforts to end the crisis in Syria once the presidential elections are over. “We want to immediately discuss this issue. This is a very important issue that we cannot leave unattended because it negatively affects us in a very direct way,” Erdoğan said.
Earlier in the day, a Turkish official said Turkey and its allies, including the US, have discussed the possibility of using Patriot missiles to protect a safe zone inside war-torn Syria, the Associated Press reported. Quoting a Foreign Ministry official, the report said the missiles are one of a number of scenarios being considered as a way to stop regime attacks on the Syrian opposition and civilians.
The planning was put on hold pending the US election, but the issue is likely to be taken up now that President Barack Obama has won a second term, according to the report.
Turkey has already requested NATO consultations under Article 4 of the alliance's charter when five civilians were killed last month by a mortar bomb that was fired from Syria. Ankara, however, has fallen short of invoking Article 5, the collective defense clause.
During a meeting with the Turkish media last month, US Ambassador in Ankara Francis Ricciardone said Turkey and the US consider every option, including a buffer zone. “As to the question of a buffer zone -- will we consider it? -- we consider everything. We are in close touch with Turkish authorities both bilaterally and in NATO. I can certainly assure you that our militaries, our military officers, are in contact,” he said.