Turkey in talks with NATO over possible Patriot deployment
Turkey said Wednesday it is in talks with NATO over the possible deployment of Patriot missiles on its soil amid the escalating conflict in neighbouring Syria, but the prime minister insisted that no request has yet been made.
"This issue (Patriots) is also coming up on the agenda within the framework of deliberations, preparations and contingency planning on the security of Turkey and NATO territories," foreign ministry spokesman Selcuk Unal said.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is currently in Indonesia, said: "No request has been made so far," according to the private Turkish television network NTV.
A NATO official in Brussels also said: "At this point we are not aware of any Turkish request."
Turkey, a member of the transatlantic military alliance, has beefed up border security with tanks and anti-aircraft batteries in the face of the deadly conflict in Syria, which has occasionally spilled over into Turkish soil.
Turkey has systematically retaliated to every cross-border shelling since Syrian fire killed five Turks on October 3, also calling an emergency NATO meeting and demanding UN Security Council action over what it called a "heinous" attack.
A Turkish diplomat said it was too early to directly link the possible deployment of Patriots to the Syria conflict, adding that the request for the missiles was within Turkish plans to reinforce its air defence system.
The US-made Patriot system is capable of intercepting both aircraft and missiles.
One-time allies Turkey and Syria fell out after Ankara joined Arab and Western countries in demanding that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad halt his violent crackdown on the popular uprising that erupted in March last year and has now escalated into civil war.
Turkey is home to over 110,000 Syria refugees in several camps along its border as well as exiled military and political opposition leaders.
But its pleas for a safe haven inside Syria fell on deaf ears at a UN Security Council meeting in August.
Turkey is hoping to secure more backing for its stance from the United States after the re-election of President Barack Obama, after diplomatic sources expressed disappointment with what they see as a lack of robust action on the Syria conflict by Washington.
Erdogan said Wednesday he expected the United States to handle the Syria crisis differently than before, in remarks carried by the state-run Anatolia news agency.
Turkey's Milliyet newspaper reported that the United States was considering installing Patriot missiles along the Turkey-Syria border to create some form of no-fly zone, as long as there was no involvement of ground troops in Syria.
Turkish officials declined to comment on the report in the absence of Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu who was holding discussions in Brussels with European Union officials.