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NATO Seeks to Assuage Russian Worries Over Patriots in Turkey

NATO on Wednesday sought to convince Russia that the anticipated fielding of Patriot air-defense systems in Turkey was purely aimed at protecting the country against dangers from Syria, Reuters reported.

The alliance is anticipated to soon announce plans to deploy Patriot missiles along Turkey's border with Syria. Turkey made the request last week after shells from Syria fell into its territory, killing several people.

Ankara also worries the Bashar Assad regime might use missiles to mount chemical strikes if it feels it is on the verge of losing the 20-month bloody war against Syrian rebels.

Ambassadors from each of the 28 NATO states met in Brussels with the new Russian envoy to the alliance, Alexander Grushko.  "Some of the countries that have shown their intention to deploy Patriots assured Russia that this is defensive only and that it is aimed at the de-escalation of the crisis," an anonymous alliance envoy told the news agency.

Germany, the Netherlands, and the United States have all expressed a willingness to lend their available Patriot interceptors to the defense of Turkey.

Grushko "repeated the Russian position" that Patriot deployments are likely to worsen regional tensions, according to the diplomat.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is slated on Tuesday to participate in a NATO-Russia Council foreign ministers meeting, which is "very likely" to include discussion of the anticipated Patriots deployments, the source said.

A NATO delegation this week was in Turkey to scout potential locations for placing the Patriot batteries. Alliance spokeswoman Carmen Romero said the delegation was likely to wrap up its activities within the coming days and would then deliver its recommendations to NATO's military leadership, the Associated Press reported.

"This recommendation is a key element in the council's decision-making process," the spokeswoman said, discussing the North Atlantic Council, NATO's decision-making organ.

"Allies with available Patriots have also made clear their intention to augment Turkey's defenses, subject to national processes," she said.

The Turkish broadcaster NTV reported Ankara has requested between 18 and 20 Patriot systems be fielded but that Brussels is prepared to deploy only eight to 10 units, according to a Xinhua News Agency summary.

The NATO delegation intends to assess with Turkish officials potential deployment spots in Sanliurfa, Hatay, Adana, and Gaziantep, according to the report.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland on Wednesday reaffirmed the Obama administration's position that the Patriots are not “for use beyond the Turkish border," the New York Times reported. However, there is some U.S. thinking that the missiles could nonetheless deter Syrian fighter pilots from carrying out attacks on their side of the border region, the newspaper reported in an article on Obama administration consideration of stepping up its involvement in the 20-month-old conflict.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday rebuked Iran for its denouncement of his nation's calls for Patriot missile protection, Xinhua separately reported.

Tehran has said the Patriot interceptors would exacerbate already-strained regional relationships. A high-ranking military officer close to Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was reported on Wednesday to have said the deployment "will cost Ankara more than they did before if missiles are part of a preparation for the intervention in Syria."

Ankara and NATO maintain the request is solely for defensive purposes and would not be used to enforce the establishment of a no-fly zone over Syria.

"Believe in your government. Believe in your state. When your government, state makes a decision on anything, it knows whom to consult it with, and makes that decision and follows through," Erdogan said at a news conference. "We do not need to ask for anyone's mandate."

Even as Ankara continues to lobby for Patriot placements, Turkish President Abdullah Gul on Thursday said it would be ludicrous for Damascus to attack his country, according to an Agence France-Presse report.

"I honestly think that a direct threat against Turkey by Syria is unlikely because that would be madness," Gul was quoted by local media as saying. "An attack (by Turkey on Syria) is out of the question."

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