Erdoğan dismisses Iranian threat over Patriot deployment along Syria border

November 29, 2012, Thursday/ 16:38:00/ TODAY'S ZAMAN

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has slammed Iran's threatening remarks that the use of Patriot missiles Turkey plans to deploy along its border with Syria to intervene in Syria would cost Ankara dearly.

“Believe in your government, believe in your state. When your government, your state, makes a decision on anything, it knows who to consult and makes that decision and follows through. We do not need to ask anyone's permission,” Erdoğan told reporters in response to a question asked during a joint press appearance with his Senegalese counterpart, Abdoul Mbaye.

Turkey formally requested a NATO Patriot system, designed to intercept aircraft or missiles, last week amid fears that the 20-month Syrian crisis could spill over into Turkish territory. A senior military advisor to Iran's supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, was quoted by an Iranian news agency on Wednesday as saying that the deployment of Patriot missiles “will cost Ankara more than it did before [when Patriots were deployed in Turkey in the Iraq wars of 1991 and 2003 but were not used] if the missiles are part of preparations for intervention in Syria.”

Referring to similar warnings from Iranian officials on the possible Patriot deployment, Erdoğan said: “When we consult Iran diplomatically on such remarks, their response is familiar. They claim that [the statement was not official but the personal opinion of the commentator]. I can guess their response before they make it.”

A 43-person NATO delegation inspected military installations in Malatya province on Wednesday to assess possible sites to deploy the Patriot missiles requested by Turkey from the alliance to protect its border with Syria. As Patriot missiles are not designed to provide protection from mortar bombs or stray shells similar to those that have already landed several times on the Turkish side of the border in recent weeks, speculation is rife that the deployment is meant to create a de-facto no-fly zone over Syria or is an advance measure to counter a missile threat not from Syria but Iran.

Meanwhile, en route to İstanbul after an official visit to the Spanish capital of Madrid, Erdoğan implied Turkey is not looking to create a no-fly zone with the Patriot missiles, maintaining that “contemplations on a [no-fly zone] without the mandate of the UN Security Council would lead to serious problems.”

Erdoğan also reiterated that Russia must play a key role in ending the Syrian crisis as one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. The prime minister also told journalists that he would talk to Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday about the Syrian crisis. “We will discuss the issue and all the details. The key [to solving the crisis in Syria] lies in Russia's hands. If Russia takes on a positive role, then Iran will also revise its approach to the Syrian crisis,” he predicted.

According to Erdoğan, the US has not yet taken a “pleasing position” on the ongoing violence in Syria. “Many speculated that much would change after the presidential elections in the US. The elections are over. And now they say we should wait until the new cabinet is formed. We will see what happens when there is a new cabinet.”

Erdoğan also deemed claims on the Islamic radicalization of the main Syrian opposition as “nonsense.” “A coalition has been formed within the ranks of the Syrian opposition. Many countries also support this coalition. There is also representation of Christian and other religious groups within that coalition,” Erdoğan further assessed.

The prime minister also spoke to the journalists about the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East and noted that Turkey has always cooperated with Iraq. “There has never been as much cooperation between Turkey and Iraq as during the Justice and Development Party's [AK Party] rule. Turkish companies did not leave Iraq alone when Iraq was working to rebuild itself [after the US invasion]. … I believe that the Iraqi administration should be more sincere in Iraq's transition to democracy. The Iraqi people should be allowed to use their own will, and what comes out of the ballot box should be the ruler of the country. We have never said anything about the territorial integrity of Iraq. On the contrary, we have warned them against division,” the prime minister noted.

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