BRUSSELS -- NATO foreign ministers are expected Tuesday to
approve Turkey's request for Patriot anti-missile systems to bolster its
defense against strikes from neighboring Syria, NATO's top official
Ankara, which has been highly supportive of the Syrian
opposition to President Bashar Assad's regime, wants the Patriots to
defend against possible retaliatory attacks by Syrian missiles carrying
chemical warheads. Syria is reported to have an array of artillery
rockets, as well as short- and medium-range missiles in its arsenal -
some capable of carrying chemical warheads.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen warned as he arrived for a two-day meeting of
foreign ministers that "if anybody uses chemical weapons I would expect
an immediate reaction from the international community." His comments
echoed a Monday warning from President Obama that there would be
consequences if Assad made the "tragic mistake" of deploying chemical
"Syrian stockpiles of chemical weapons are a matter of great concern," Fogh Rasmussen said.
Fogh Rasmussen offered no specifics, U.S. officials say the White House
and its allies are weighing military options after U.S. intelligence
reports showed the Syrian regime may be readying them and desperate
enough to use them.
Germany and the Netherlands are expected to
provide to Turkey several batteries of the latest PAC-3 version of the
U.S.-built Patriots air defense systems, which is optimized to intercept
incoming missiles, with the U.S. possibly sending some from its stocks
The exact details of the deployment and the number of
batteries to be sent will be determined by NATO's military committee
based on a report by a joint team that has been studying possible basing
sites. Parliaments in both Germany and the Netherlands must then
approve the move, which would also involve several hundred soldiers.
doesn't want to be drawn into the Syrian conflict and Rasmussen
cautioned that any missile deployment would be defensive only.
"It would in no way support a no-fly zone or any offensive operation," he said.
ambassador Martin Erdmann said the Bundestag will probably take up the
matter next week. The actual deployment would then occur "within weeks"
once the political decision is made, Fogh Rasmussen said.
the complexity and size of the Patriot batteries - including their
radars, command-and-control centers, communications and support
facilities - they cannot be flown quickly by air to Turkey and will
probably have to travel by sea, NATO officials said.
ministers are also meeting Tuesday with their Russian counterpart Sergey
Lavrov. Russia has criticized the planned deployment of the Patriots
saying that it would further inflame tensions in the region.
which is party to the 1925 Geneva Protocol banning chemical weapons in
war, has repeatedly insisted it would not use them even if it did
possess such weapons.
Turkey, a NATO member since the 1950s, asked
allies to deploy the missiles as a defense against any aerial attack
from Syria after mortar rounds and shells from Syria struck Turkish
territory, killing five people. NATO installed the long-range Patriot
batteries on Turkish territory during the 1991 and 2003 Iraq wars. They
were never used and were withdrawn a few months later.
Patriot, which first entered service three decades ago, has been
successively upgraded over the years. Although optimized for
anti-aircraft defense, advanced versions can also be used against cruise
missiles and against medium- and short-range ballistic missiles. They
have a maximum range of about 160 kilometers (100 miles) and can reach
altitudes of about 80,000 feet.
Syria is reported to have an array
of artillery rockets, as well as short- and medium-range missiles -
including Soviet-built SS-21 Scarabs and Scud-B missiles - in its
arsenal. The latter are capable of carrying chemical warheads.
conflict started 20 months ago as an uprising against President Bashar
Assad, whose family has ruled the country for four decades. It quickly
morphed into a civil war, with rebels taking up arms to fight back
against a bloody crackdown by the government. According to activists, at
least 40,000 people have been killed in Syria since March 2011