“Turkey already has discussed with NATO, during our ministerial meetings over the last two days, the burden of Syrian refugees on Turkey, the outrageous shelling across the border from Syria into Turkey a week ago, and that Turkey is considering formally invoking Article 4 of the North Atlantic Treaty,” said Clinton on Thursday, during a ministerial meeting of the “Friends of Syria” group. The minutes of the meeting are posted on the website of the State Department. The “Friends of Syria” group brings together the US, European and Arab nations as well as Turkey, which seek the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Article 4 of the NATO charter says that the Allies “consult together whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the parties is threatened.”
Two Turkish nationals and two Syrians were injured in a refugee camp in Kilis province when Syrian forces fired across the border during clashes with opposition fighters, who reportedly had attempted to seize control of the border gate and then fled to Turkey earlier this month. Erdoğan called the incident a border violation and said Turkey would pursue measures under international law in response, raising prospects of military retaliation.
On Wednesday, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said during a NATO ministerial meeting in Brussels that Turkey has not yet asked for NATO help in regards to the border incident.
Earlier, Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said “NATO has responsibilities to protect the Turkish border according to Article 5,” referring to the border incident. Article 5, known as the collective defense clause, commits NATO states to defend a member state when it comes under an attack.
But Leon Panetta, the US defense secretary, cast doubts on the prospects of a NATO intervention in the Turkish-Syrian border tensions under Article 5, saying in a speech at a US congressional committee that it would be a far-fetched measure.
Panetta, during his address to the Armed Services Committee of the US House of Representatives on Thursday said resorting to NATO collective defense in regard to the tension along the Turkish-Syrian border would be “going beyond” Article 5 according to a report by the Anatolia news agency on Thursday.
“It should be laid bare that there was a direct threat from Syria on Turkey. Under present conditions it [invoking Article 5] would go beyond the norms of the article,” Panetta was quoted as saying by Anatolia.
The article was invoked by the US for the first time in October 2001, when NATO determined that the terrorist attacks on the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City were indeed eligible under the terms of the charter.
Clinton also mentioned that US is now mulling over the establishment of an “assistance hub” into Syria, to “co-locate Syrian activists and help them coordinate the collection and distribution of assistance to opposition groups inside Syria,” with the cooperation of Turkey.
The idea of establishing a humanitarian corridor in Syria has been repeatedly raised by Turkish leaders, but it seems unlikely that such corridors would be established in the near future given the fact that it might trigger armed confrontation with the Syrian forces since the Syrian government is almost certain to reject such a proposal.
But speaking in Doha, Qatar’s capital, on Friday, Erdoğan said Turkey has not received any such proposal from the US when asked to comment on Clinton’s remarks in Paris.
Clinton also said that international community has to “keep Assad off balance by leaving options on the table,” and increasing the pressure on the Syrian regime to abandon offensive against dissidents.
“We have to do more to take tougher actions against the Assad regime. We need to start moving very vigorously in the UN Security Council for a Chapter 7 sanctions resolution, including travel, financial sanctions, an arms embargo, and the pressure that that will give the regime the push for compliance with Kofi Annan’s six-point plan,” Clinton remarked.
Speaking during the same conference French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said that the international community would extend as much assistance as possible to help Syrians who fled violence in their country.
Juppe stated that Turkey, which is currently housing more than 25,000 Syrian refugees in its territory, could trust international community on this matter.
So far, refugees in Turkey have almost exclusively been provided for by the Prime Ministry’s Disaster and Emergency Management Directorate (AFAD), which has built and overseen vast refugee tent camps and container cities. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said last week that AFAD has so far spent $150 million in providing for refugees.