BRUSSELS — NATO foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on Dec. 4 and 5 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 Nov. 21 request for cover from aerial attack, diplomatic sources said.
NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said Nov. 30 that a decision would be made” in the next few days.”
It may come Dec. 4, on the first day of the NATO talks. The ministers will also discuss the situation in Syria.
On Nov. 29, U.S. 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 realize 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 Dec. 4 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 U.S.-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 defense 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 Oct. 3.
The PAC-3 type Patriots, made by U.S. 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 southeastern provinces of Diyarbakir or Sanliurfa or Malatya in the east, which already hosts an early warning radar as part of NATO’s missile defense system.
Military sources in Turkey have said NATO is considering the deployment of up to six Patriot batteries and 300 to 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.