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Wednesday, July 29, 2015
NATO holds rare emergency meeting at Turkey’s request, declares solidarity
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (C) addresses the North Atlantic Council (NAC) following Turkey's request for Article 4 consultations, at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels on Tuesday. (Photo: Reuters)
July 28, 2015, Tuesday/ 12:53:42/ TODAY'S ZAMAN WITH WIRES / ANKARA
NATO members expressed their “strong solidarity” with Turkey on Tuesday as ambassadors gathered for a rare emergency meeting regarding the terrorist threats faced by Turkey at its Syrian border.
Following a 90-minute meeting at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Turkey won the backing it sought to increase its role in the US-led fight against radical terrorist organization the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) with air strikes.
Turkey requested urgent consultations with its 27 NATO allies in Brussels after stepping up its role in the US-led fight against ISIL with air strikes inside Syria, also hitting terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) camps in Iraq on the weekend.
"We stand in strong solidarity with our ally Turkey," NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told alliance ambassadors at the start of the meeting he called right and timely "to address instability on Turkey's doorstep and on NATO's border."
In the run-up, both NATO and Turkey down played suggestions that the military alliance might provide air or ground support for Turkey's dramatic change in its strategy toward ISIL.
Article 4 of NATO's founding treaty empowers member states to seek emergency consultations when they consider their "territorial integrity, political independence or security" to be in jeopardy. This was only the fifth such meeting in NATO's 66-year history. Ankara twice invoked this article in 2012 to ask for consultations with its NATO allies over the Syria conflict, notably after an aerial clash with Damascus.
NATO rules provide for mutual support if an ally comes under attack, although Turkey has not invoked Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty which requires allied nations to consider military action.
After an ISIL suicide bomb attack in the town of Suruç in Şanlıurfa province on the Syrian border on July 20, which killed 32 people and injured over 100 others, followed by another attack in which a Turkish soldier was shot at the border, the Turkish military launched air strikes against ISIL targets inside Syria. The Turkish military also targeted terrorist PKK targets after a number of recent attacks by the PKK that killed Turkish soldiers and police.
“We strongly condemn the terrorist attacks against Turkey and express our condolences to the Turkish government and the families of the victims killed in the recent terrorist actions,” NATO ambassadors said in a statement after the meeting in Brussels.
"Terrorism poses a direct threat to the security of NATO countries and to international stability and prosperity," the NATO statement said. "It is a global threat that knows no border, nationality or religion, a challenge that the international community must fight and tackle together."
In Ankara, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Turkish and US officials were discussing the creation of a safe zone near Turkey's border with Syria that would be cleared of ISIL's presence and turned into a secure area for Syrian refugees to return.
Speaking at a news conference on Tuesday before leaving for China, Erdoğan also said it was impossible to advance the settlement process with the Kurds as attacks within Turkey continue. "If a NATO member country comes under attack, NATO would support it in every way," Erdoğan said.
"At the moment, Turkey has come under attack and is exercising its right to defend itself and will exercise this right until the end. ... But what we're saying is that there could be a duty for NATO and we ask NATO to be prepared for this," he added.
After months of reluctance, Turkish warplanes last week started striking militant targets in Syria and agreed to allow the US to launch its own strikes from Turkey's strategically located Incirlik Air Base. Syrian Kurds are among the most effective ground forces battling ISIL and have been backed by US-led airstrikes, but Turkey fears a revival of the Kurdish insurgency in pursuit of an independent state. For some NATO members and independent observers it is unclear whether Turkey's target is ISIL or the Kurds, including the PKK and Kurds in northern Syria.
"There is no difference between the PKK and ISIL," said Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu. "You can't say that the PKK is better because it is fighting ISIL," Cavuşoğlu said during a visit to Lisbon.
European allies call on Turkey not to undermine Kurdish settlement process
During Tuesday's meeting several NATO member nations urged Ankara not to undermine the Kurdish settlement process by using excessive military force, according to a NATO official speaking on the condition of anonymity. The same official said several nations called for "a proportionate use of military force" in any action taken against the PKK. European allies of Turkey said Turkey's military campaign against PKK camps in Iraq on the weekend was justified but that at the same time Turkey should not abandon the domestic settlement process, which they supported, that has been ongoing for several years.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu in a telephone call on Sunday to respect the principle of proportionality and not to give up on the Kurdish settlement process. "Reconciliation should continue," the Netherlands' ambassador to NATO, Marjanne de Kwaasteniet, said on Twitter. The European Commission on Tuesday repeated its emphasis on keeping the settlement process alive. Turkey is currently a candidate for EU membership.
In the meantime, the leader of Syria's main political opposition group has urged NATO partners meeting in Brussels to support the establishment of a safe zone in northern Syria. Khaled Khoja, who heads the Syrian National Coalition, said that a safe zone would ensure civilians are protected from ISIL and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's indiscriminate aerial bombardment.
Turkey has been pushing for the establishment of a safe zone inside Syria for some time, but US officials had not supported the move. However, Turkish and US officials reached an agreement last week allowing expanded access to İncirlik Air Base for coalition forces to launch military attacks against ISIL. Part of the deal includes the de facto establishment of a safe zone along Turkey's Syria border, but not inside Syria.