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Turkey Anticipates Prompt NATO Ruling on Patriot Deployment Request
Turkey anticipates NATO in the coming days will determine whether to place Patriot air-defense missiles along the nation's border with Syria, Reuters reported on Saturday.
Turkish Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz told journalists "we expect the NATO Council to make its decision within the week."
After weeks of speculation, Ankara last week formally requested that member nations to the military alliance field Patriot interceptors near the 560-mile boundary with civil war-wracked Syria. Turkey wishes to protect its territory from further mortar shelling by the Syrian military as well as feared attacks with missiles armed with chemical warheads.
"We asked for Patriots from NATO taking into account the critical situation that emerged on our border with Syria," Yilmaz said. "The aim is for the protection of the widest possible area in Turkey."
Brussels has said it will examine the request "without delay." Germany, the Netherlands, and the United States are the only NATO countries with the necessary Patriot systems for intercepting missiles or airplanes. All three countries have signaled they are open to meeting Ankara's request.
The Turkish armed forces in a statement quoted by Reuters said "the deployment of the air and missile defense system is only to counter an air or missile threat originating in Syria and is a measure entirely aimed at defense. That it will be used to form a no-fly zone or for an offensive operation is out of the question."
The Turkish military said a team of NATO representatives and Turkish government personnel would beginning on Tuesday begin checking various locations along the Syrian border where the Patriot interceptors might be installed, the Associated Press reported.
Once site inspections are concluded, determinations will be made on the exact location and quantity of Patriot units to be fielded as well as their accompanying NATO troop deployments, according to the military. Preparations to coordinate the Patriot technology with domestic air protection systems are already taking place.
The process of choosing deployment locations and transporting the bulky Patriot batteries, radars, command-and-control systems and other technology means the missiles would not be likely to begin protecting Turkish territory for some weeks,AP reported.
"These are not drop-and-go systems," an unidentified official said.
Syria, Russia and other nations have signaled their displeasure with the developing situation.
Damascus on Friday said shipping the Patriots to Turkey risked escalating regional tensions even further, Reuters reported.
"Syria stresses its condemnation of the Turkish government's latest provocative step," an unidentified Syrian official told a regime-controlled broadcaster.
The source said Damascus would honor Ankara's internal decision-making while also holding Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan "responsible for the militarization of the situation on the Syrian-Turkish border and increased tensions."
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu denied that his nation was acting provocatively and said it was Syria's fault for firing mortars into its neighbors' territory. Several people have already been killed by the cross-border shelling.
"If this [Patriot deployment] measure is not needed then it will not be used, but if there is any kind of risk to Turkey's security, all kinds of steps will be taken, both within Turkey's national capacity and within the framework of Turkey's membership of NATO," Davutoglu said. "Nobody should have a need to question this."
"The militarization of the Syrian-Turkish border is an alarming signal," Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said. He called on Ankara instead to use its relationship with the Syrian rebels to push for political talks between opposition forces and Damascus, AP reported.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Friday was set to talk over Ankara's request with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Reuters reported.
"Apparently he wants to explain (NATO's) position on this issue," Lavrov said to journalists of his anticipated telephone conversation with the alliance chief. "The main concern is the more weapons there are, the greater risk that they will be used."
Iran also warned of the ramifications of deploying the Patriots in Turkey, Reuters reported on Sunday.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said installation of NATO missiles "will not only not help solve the situation in Syria, it will actually make the situation more difficult and complicated as well."
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