Brussels (AFP) – NATO foreign ministers meeting Tuesday and Wednesday in Brussels are expected to signal support for alliance member Turkey by giving the go-ahead to deploy Patriot missiles near its border with Syria.
The 28-nation alliance is more than likely to agree to Turkey’s November 21 request for cover from aerial attack, diplomatic sources said.
NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said Friday that a decision would be made “in the next few days.” It may come Tuesday, on the first day of the NATO talks.
The ministers will also discuss the situation in Syria. Last Thursday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Washington was weighing what further help it can give Syrian opposition rebels.
“This is a complex question,” said a diplomat who asked not to be named. “Western nations realise that should they fail to provide the rebels with more help they might have no influence on them if the regime falls.”
Syria will also be raised during an informal NATO-Russia meeting over lunch Tuesday between the ministers and their Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.
Lavrov recently warned against the deployment of the Patriots, saying it could create a temptation to use the weapons. “The more arms are being accumulated, the greater the risk that they will be used,” he said.
Both NATO and Turkey have insisted that the deployment of the US-made surface-to-air missiles was a purely defensive move.
Turkish President Abdullah Gul said last week that it was a “precautionary measure.” “An attack [by Turkey on Syria] is out of the question,” he added.
The NATO spokeswoman said “such a deployment would augment Turkey’s air defence capabilities to defend the population and territory of Turkey (…) It would serve as a deterrent to possible threat.”
Ankara asked its NATO partners to deploy the missiles after a series of cross-border shellings, including an attack that left five civilians dead on 3 October.
The PAC-3 type Patriots, made by US firm Lockheed Martin, are not intended for that sort of threat but to intercept ballistic missiles, such as the Scuds owned by Syria.
A team of NATO experts has been in Turkey to survey sites near the Syrian border that would serve as suitable locations for the deployment of the missiles.
It is not yet clear where and how many Patriots would be deployed, but possible locations include the south eastern provinces of Diyarbakir or Sanliurfa or Malatya in the east, which already hosts an early warning radar as part of NATO’s missile defence system.
Military sources in Turkey have said NATO is considering the deployment of up to six Patriot batteries and some 300-400 foreign troops to operate the missiles.
The missiles would likely be supplied by Germany, The Netherlands or the United States.
The two-day NATO talks will also touch on Afghanistan as well as the situation in Georgia and in the Western Balkans where NATO has troops in Kosovo.