Turkey has said it did not feel threatened by a Russian statement that Moscow could deploy missiles to target the US defense system in Europe, provided that these missiles are not for offensive purposes.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said on Wednesday that his country will deploy missiles to target the US missile shield, meant to protect NATO members in Europe, if Washington fails to assuage Moscow's concerns about its plans. NATO member Turkey has agreed to host a US radar system on its territory as part of the missile defense project while interceptor missiles are to be deployed in other NATO countries as well as at sea.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, speaking to reporters while returning from a visit to Cairo to attend an Arab League meeting on Syria on Sunday, said the radar to be deployed in Turkey was for defensive purposes only. “If someone would attack Russia, it is their business. Our [radar] does not pose a threat against Russia. It is, in the end, for defensive, not offensive purposes,” he said.
The Russian missiles, Davutoğlu added, are “not a threat to us, as long as they are for offensive purposes.” The US X-Ray radar will be deployed at a base in Kürecik, Malatya, in eastern Turkey. Ankara has agreed to host the radar after lengthy negotiations with the United States and receiving assurances that no country will be named as a source of threat.
But the missile defense system is widely known to have been developed to counter missile threats from Iran, Turkey's southern neighbor.
Responding to Medvedev's remarks, Capt. John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, said: “I do think it's worth reiterating that the European missile defense system that we've been working very hard on with our allies and with Russia over the last few years is not aimed at Russia. It is ... designed to help deter and defeat the ballistic missile threat to Europe and to our allies from Iran.”
Iran, which the West suspects aims to develop nuclear missiles, said on Saturday that it will target NATO's missile defense installations in Turkey if the US or Israel attacks it. Davutoğlu did not comment on the Iranian threat. Tehran says NATO's early warning radar station in Turkey is meant to protect Israel against Iranian missile attacks if a war breaks out with the Jewish state.
Davutoğlu to visit Germany
Davutoğlu also announced plans to visit Germany, where police recently discovered 10 people, including eight Turks, were killed by a neo-Nazi group between 2000 and 2006.
The foreign minister will meet representatives from Germany's Turkish community in different German cities, as well as German officials, during his visit on Dec. 1-4. He said he might also discuss Germany's plans to pay compensation to families of Turkish victims of the neo-Nazi network. Critics say the amount of planned compensation, reportedly 10,000 euros for each victim, is too low.
No plans for Mideast hegemony
Meanwhile, Davutoğlu also responded to claims from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that Turkey was trying to reinstate the Ottoman Empire, saying Turkey has no intention to impose its hegemony over the Middle East. But he did say that the Ottoman Empire represents the “history of the Arab people, as much as it represents the history of the Turks.”
Turkey, once a close ally of Assad, has stepped up its criticism of the Syrian regime's brutal crackdown on widespread protests. Assad slammed Turkish leaders, saying on Saturday that “some in Turkey are still clinging to the dream of reinstating the Ottoman Empire.”
The Turkish leaders, he added, “Know that this dream is impossible, so they are trying to exploit parties with a religious agenda to expand their influence on the Arab world.”
Assad opponents, on the other hand, are supportive of Turkey's policies. Indicating the sympathy for Turkey among the Syrian opposition, a group of Syrians chanted slogans in support of Turkey and Davutoğlu while the foreign minister's car left the hotel he stayed at in Cairo. Some were also seen kissing the Turkish flag on the car, in an apparent response to burning of the Turkish flag during an attack by Assad supporters on Turkish diplomatic missions in Syria earlier this month.
In his Saturday remarks, Assad called on his supporters not to vandalize any Turkish symbols, saying: “I ask you: Don't burn Turkish flags. The Turkish people are a proud nation.”