Turkey to discuss Syria with NATO at Brussels meeting

April 17, 2012, Tuesday/ 18:03:00/ TODAY'S ZAMAN

Turkish officials are expected to raise the Syrian issue during a NATO meeting in Brussels beginning on Wednesday, diplomatic sources have said.

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz are scheduled to attend the two-day meeting organized for politicians at the foreign and defense ministerial levels. An official from the Foreign Ministry, speaking on condition of anonymity, said on Tuesday that Turkish officials will discuss the Syrian situation with their counterparts during bilateral talks, adding that Syria would not be on the official agenda of the meeting.

In a statement earlier this month, which may be interpreted as the harshest response yet to the escalating 13-month-old Syrian crisis, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan raised the possibility of calling on the NATO military alliance to protect Turkey’s border against incursions by Syrian forces. “NATO has a responsibility to protect Turkish borders,” said Erdoğan during an official visit to China on April 11, signaling that Turkey may officially ask NATO members to apply Article 5 of the NATO Charter, which says that an attack on any member shall be considered an attack on all, if the situation in Syria becomes a serious enough threat to Turkish national security. His comments came after four Syrians, who fled to Turkey from the violence in Syria, were killed by Syrian forces targeting refugees on the Turkish side of the border in recent weeks.

A number of foreign and defense ministerial meetings are scheduled between NATO’s 28 nations on Wednesday with a working dinner planned for later in the day. On Thursday, a meeting between the NATO members and Russia will take place. A separate meeting will also take place between NATO nation ministers and 22 other countries taking part in the NATO-led Afghanistan military mission under the name of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

The agenda of the meeting, released in a statement by Turkey’s foreign ministry on Tuesday, indicates the focus will be on the war in Afghanistan and the ISAF mission, as well as the situation in Libya following NATO military intervention in March 2011. NATO’s missile defense system and its relations with Russia within that scope will also be discussed. The meeting is meant to be a preparatory meeting for the NATO strategic Chicago summit to be held on May 20.

Friends of Syria meeting in Paris

Wrapping up the talks in Brussels, Davutoğlu may attend a provisional meeting in Paris for the third Friends of Syria meeting on Thursday.

The meeting on Thursday will be at the foreign ministerial level. A working group of diplomats and finance ministries from the Friends of Syria group countries gathered on Tuesday and have started to discuss sanction measures against President Bashar al-Assad’s repressive regime. This working group meeting was scheduled to take place in the final communiqué released after the İstanbul conference. A Turkish diplomat is also in attendance at the meeting. The closed-door provisional meetings will not be attended by every member country, but will bring together representatives from more than 50 countries from the Arab League and the European Union. Lebanon and Iraq, two Arab League nations are among non-attending countries.

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