Turkey has yet to issue any call for NATO to deploy Patriot missile interceptors along the nation's border with Syria, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday.
A call for the weapons would require authorization from his office, the Wall Street Journal quoted him as saying. Responding to previously reported remarks on the matter by a Turkish Foreign Ministry insider, Erdogan said such a staffer "does not have the authority to make a statement like this."
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the Patriot units could help protect Turkey from weapons fired from within Syria, the New York Times on Wednesday quoted area press organizations as saying. Shells and bullets from Syria have in recent months fallen in Turkish territory, leading to return fire.
The Turkish publication Milliyet said Washington and Ankara planned to tap the Patriots for the purpose of preventing fighting in select areas of Syria, where the Assad government's efforts to put down an uprising has killed tens of thousands. Washington and partner governments have struggled to find strategies for ending the civil war, recently tightening communication with opposition leaders but making no move yet to provide the rebels with weapons.
Davutoglu avoided confirming if his government would seek the Patriot batteries, the Journal reported. He stated, though, that NATO is "obliged to defend all its members."
One insider said the proposed use of Patriot interceptors to bar aircraft from parts of Syria has picked up some support in recent weeks among analysts in the U.S. capital and personnel at the State Department, the Times reported. The source said Obama officials had yet to approve the possible move, but top Turkish political figures had been briefed on it.
Ankara's desire for the interceptors had no link to the possible establishment of conflict-free areas inside Syria, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.
“On the no-fly zone itself, you know that we’ve been saying for quite a while we continue to study whether that makes sense, how it might work,” Nuland stated.
Any interceptor deployment along the boundary would be strictly geared toward protecting Turkish territory, the Journal quoted a high-level U.S. government insider as saying.
Nuland on Tuesday said she believed Ankara had yet to officially ask NATO for the anti-air armaments, The Hill newspaper reported. The United States would deliver no arms before receiving backing from the military alliance, she said.
"We will await a formal request, and then NATO will deliver aid. But, we're obviously looking at the full range of things to ensure that Turkey remains safe and secure," Nuland stated.
Ankara planned to communicate with NATO on the potential interceptor placement, one government insider told the Journal in remarks published on Thursday. The source said the matter "is coming up the agenda," and possible dialogue with the alliance would unfold with an eye to "contingency planning on the security of Turkey and NATO territory."
The alliance so far has not received a Turkish proposal on the matter, but "the allies will consider any request that is brought to the North Atlantic Council," a NATO spokeswoman stated.