Turkey is the most affected ally of NATO from terror attacks and has legitimate security concerns, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Oct. 11, but added Ankara should show restraint in its “Operation Peace Spring” in northern Syria.
“No NATO ally has suffered terrorist attacks, no NATO ally host more refugees and no NATO ally is more exposed to the volatile situation in the Middle East than Turkey. That’s why I say that Turkey has legitimate security concerns. At the same time, I also said that I expect Turkey to act with restraint and I also stated that several NATO allies have expressed serious concern. I also expressed my serious concerns about the risks of escalating the situation with Turkish operation,” Stoltenberg told Hürriyet Daily News in an interview.
Stoltenberg had meetings with the Turkish leadership in Istanbul for preparatory talks ahead of a NATO summit. Yet, the agenda focused on Turkey’s recent military operation against the YPG.
“I think it’s important that we all remember that we have a common enemy. We have been fighting with Daesh together and made significant progress in that fight. Not so many months ago, Daesh-controlled territory as big as the U.K. Turkey has been at the forefront of that fight. Turkish soldiers have been fighting Daesh, have liberated all the territory,” he said, using the Arabic acronym for ISIL.
The secretary-general stressed that this operation should not “put these gains in jeopardy and but that preserve the gains.”
Stoltenberg also expressed the importance of preventing that ISIL fighters who are now in prison “are not allowed to escape.”
Asked if the Turkish leadership assured him with a strategy regarding the ISIL members in the YPG-controlled area in Syria, Stoltenberg said, “It has been clearly stated by Turkish leaders I met in Istanbul today that their aim is, of course, to avoid any setbacks in the fight against Daesh and to do what they can prevent any of the Daesh terrorists to be able to escape prison. They are captured, they should remain in prison. That’s the case the Turkish leadership presented.”
Elaborating on what he meant by calling an action by the Turkish army in Syria to be “proportionate and measured,” he said, “The important thing is now to understand that there is a risk for further escalation or further human suffering. Therefore, Turkey has a responsibility to do what they can do avoid that. NATO is not present on the ground in northern Syria. So, it’s not for NATO to go into operational issues.”
Asked if he has a proposal to handle the issue of the captured ISIL members in Syria, Stoltenberg recalled that there are many terrorists in captivity, including many terrorist foreign fighters, with their families living in camps.
The secretary-general made a call to the international community, including NATO members, to discuss the issue and find a long term sustainable and credible solution.
“This is an issue which is now discussed in many countries. What we have seen is a need for a national sit down and discuss together how we can coordinate a sustainable solution. Because the solution that we have today is not sustainable. We need an internationally agreed way of dealing with all the prisoners, Daesh terrorist fighters, who are in captivity but also all those family members, spouses, the children that are living in camps.”
The international community tried to do something already via humanitarian organizations, but we need to address the “legal issues, who is going to be responsible and the long-term solutions for those prisoners,” he stated.
“It is not for NATO to put on the table a proposal because this is not NATO responsibility. But, also, it affects all the NATO allies. For many NATO allies, there are foreign fighters who originate from NATO countries. This is an ongoing discussion and I just urge NATO allies and the whole international community to sit down and find a sustainable and credible solution to the issue of foreign fighters and their families,” he said.
Asked about President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s recent complaint against the NATO members that remain silent to Turkey’s necessities in fighting terrorism, Stoltenberg reminded that NATO significantly increased its military presence and invested in the security of Turkey.
“But when it comes to the situation of northern Syria, there are different views. That’s a public known fact. That means as long we have differences on the issue, it will affect how NATO can operate related to the situation in northern Syria.”
When asked about media reports that Turkey benefits from the intelligence information gathered by NATO facilities, AWACS aircraft and Kürecik radar base, the secretary-general said he cannot go into operational issues. “But I can say that the operation in northern Syria is not a NATO operation,” he stated.
When it comes to the reports that Spain and Italy decided not to extend the deployment of their missile defense systems in southern Turkey as part of NATO mission, the secretary-general said the discussions are not finalized yet.
“The states commit normally for a year and then we find a new nation or the nation that provides the air defense battery will extend. There are no final decisions now whether there is going to be an extension and or a new country will be coming with their defense systems. Now, there are contacts between Turkey and many NATO allies, including France, on how to bring air defense batteries to Turkey,” he said.
Stoltenberg reiterated NATO’s position on Turkey’s deployment of the Russian-made S-400 missile defense systems, that it was a national decision on what kind of different systems NATO allies acquire. “But I am concerned with the consequences of the decision. Because it not possible to make these interoperable with NATO air missile defense systems. There are risks related to allied aircraft. So, this is an issue where I hope there will finally be a solution.”
Hurriyet Daily News