NATO’s new Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said there has been no request made to NATO to send ground troops to Turkey, and also that a no-fly zone and safe zone in Syria are not part of present NATO discussions, but signaled that the number of Patriot missile batteries in Turkey may be increased in order to enhance the defense of Turkey’s airspace.
“There has been no request for NATO ground troops to be sent to Turkey. That’s not on the table at all,” said NATO chief in an exclusive interview with Today’s Zaman on Thursday.
Former Norwegian Prime Minister Stoltenberg assumed his new position on Oct. 1 and his first visits were to Poland earlier this week and then Turkey.
During his interview with Today’s Zaman, Stoltenberg emphasized that NATO is about collective defines:
“It’s about one for all and all for one. And that is of course for Turkey, all other allied member states. We have a very strong expression of NATO solidarity in Turkey. Because NATO has deployed the Patriot missile system in Turkey to help enhance Turkish air defense,” said Stoltenberg.
“NATO has a large army and NATO is supporting Turkey but Turkey is very much capable of defending itself. But, we are of course, ready to support Turkey,” he added.
Asked about what would be the response of NATO if the Turkish territory inside Syria, where the tomb of Süleyman Şah, the grandfather of Osman l, the founder of Ottoman Empire stands is attacked, Stoltenberg said: “I think it would be wrong of me to answer all kinds of hypothetical questions. I will limit myself to underline the main, the most important message. The core responsibility of NATO is to help protect and defend all [of its] allies. That’s also the case for Turkey.”
The Turkish territory in Syria with the tomb in question is not registered as Turkish territory in the NATO treaty. When the terrorist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants threatened to attack the tomb a few months ago, Turkish authorities had strongly emphasized that they would retaliate against whoever attacks the tomb, which is being guarded by Turkish troops.
“I think I shall just underline that NATO is standing by Turkey. The whole idea of NATO is to protect and defend its allies and that’s also for Turkey,” the secretary general said.
Stoltenberg also ruled out the Turkish proposal to establish a safe zone and a no-fly zone in Syria. “It’s not on the agenda of NATO,” he said. Stressing that he welcomes the air strikes by the US and other allies against the ISIL militants, Stoltenberg said he came to listen, to consult, to hear views of Turkish officials. He said the safe zone issue has been raised by Turks in the meetings he has been conducting, adding that since it’s not on the agenda it would be wrong for him to go into a discussion about establishing a safe zone.
There are serious clashes ongoing in the town of Kobani in Syria, visible from the town of Suruç in the Turkish province of Şanlıurfa. Unnamed US officials have criticized Turkey for observing the situation at the Turkey-Syria border but not taking action to save the Kurds in Kobani, according to some reports in Western media outlets.
Asked about what he thinks on the situation in Kobani and the criticism of Turkey in this regard, Stoltenberg said he wanted to visit Ankara as soon as he took over his post approximately 10 days ago, because Turkey is a key ally and most affected by the crisis in Syria and Iraq. He continued:
“I am here to consult, to listen, to hear the assessments, concerns of the Turkish government. I had the privilege of meeting with the [Turkish] prime minister, president, foreign minister, defense minister and the chief of the military, to discuss, elaborate with them, listen to them. I think we all have a common understanding that the situation in Syria is very complicated. There is no easy way out and it will take time. What I welcome is the air strikes led by the US, together with several other NATO allies and other partners. No one believes that [the air strikes will be] solving all the problems. But I believe the air strikes at least limit the capacity of ISIL to continue with the atrocities [they are perpetrating]. Therefore I support the air strikes.”
Reiterating that the ground troops are not on the agenda, Stoltenberg said, “Of course, that’s a very serious question.”
Turkey currently has six Patriot missile batteries on its soil. The country requested Patriots from NATO after the civil war in Syria broke out in 2011. There are US, Dutch and German Patriot batteries in Gaziantep, Adana and Kahramanmaraş. Spain will take over for the Dutch at the end of this year.
Answering a question on whether Turkey needs more Patriots to defend itself, Stoltenberg said: “We (NATO) are committed to enhancing the air defense of Turkey by deploying Patriots. I know that our (NATO’s) military commanders and the military commanders in Turkey are elaborating on the details. For many reasons, it’s not possible for me to go into those details. But we are committed to defend, to enhance the air defense of Turkey by deploying Patriots.”
When asked what he thinks about the deadly street protests in Turkey, in response to Turkey’s inaction on the fighting in Kobani, Stoltenberg stressed that violence will never be an answer to problems and that the right to protest should be respected.
“NATO is an alliance of 28 democratic societies. Open, free, democratic societies. Therefore, I support them expressing their views and opinions, and to use the right to protest. But I urge all protestors not to use violence. Because violence is never the answer. I hope that it’s possible to have a debate and for people to express their views without violence,” Stoltenberg said.
Turkey has been the target of accusations of turning a blind eye to the foreign fighters traveling to Syria via Turkish territory to join ISIL. Asked what he thinks on the Turkey’s alleged close ties to ISIL, Stoltenberg said that Turkish officials condemn the atrocities of ISIL strongly and that Turkey is more than ready to take part in cooperation with NATO to address the challenge of the foreign fighters.
On Turkey’s insistence of getting rid of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria and making it a priority, Stoltenberg only said that NATO is against the atrocities committed by ISIL as well as the atrocities committed by the Assad regime. Stating that NATO is very clear when it comes to what needs to be done for a solution to the crisis in Syria and Iraq, Stoltenberg said he supports airstrikes against ISIL and enhancing the military capacity of Iraq to defend itself.
“Our alliance is a family of values. NATO defending almost one billion people. From Eastern Europe to west coast of the US”, NATO’s new chief posted last week on his Twitter account. Asked about whether Turkey shares the values of other NATO allies, given the limitations to freedom of expression and press freedom, Stoltenberg said he believes in the idea of a free press and a democratic society, adding that NATO defends those values.
“I will not intervene in [Turkey’s] domestic discussions,” he stressed.
Stoltenberg said that NATO is ready to defend all of its allies. Addressing whether NATO’s capabilities are up to the challenges currently posed by both Ukraine and ISIL, he said NATO is a strong alliance and the most successful one in history.
He stressed that NATO has been able to adapt to changing security environments, constantly renewing itself, investing in and enhancing its military capabilities.
Stoltenberg said that 28 NATO member countries came together at the last NATO summit in Wales and decided on a number of ambitious plans. “And my task is to turn those decisions into reality,” he added, saying that he’s working on how NATO can make its forces ready, how it can invest more in defense and how the allies can work together better.
Emphasizing that all of these decisions by NATO will enable the alliance to be stronger in the future, Stoltenberg said that NATO will be able to address new and changing threats and security environments.
When asked about NATO fighting against a non-state actor such as ISIL, despite the fact that NATO was created to protect its members from other states, Stoltenberg said that the alliance already has protected and defended itself against a non-state actor, giving the example of the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US. “We conducted the biggest military operation in our history against terrorism,” Stoltenberg said, referring to the intervention in Afghanistan.
Stoltenberg also mentioned the situation in Ukraine. When asked if he thinks a NATO-Russia war over Ukraine could ever be possible, he said, “It’s completely wrong to speculate on this.”
He said NATO welcomes the cease-fire in the region and the Ukrainian government’s efforts to reach a political solution.
“I am calling on Russia to use all its influence on the separatists to make sure that they are respecting the cease-fire. Russia still has forces in Eastern Ukraine and Donetsk. They have forces along the border. And we call on Russia to withdraw their forces from Eastern Ukraine and from the border,” Stoltenberg said.