NATO to agree to send Patriots to Turkey -diplomats

David Brunnstrom and Adrian Croft
Reuters Middle East

* Turkey wants to bolster missile defences - diplomat

* Defences to also protect against chemical weapons

* Deploying missiles could take weeks

BRUSSELS, Dec 4 (Reuters) - NATO foreign ministers will

agree on Tuesday to send Patriot missiles to beef up Turkey's

air defences and calm Turkey's fears that it could come under

missile attack, possibly with chemical weapons, from Syria,

diplomats said.

Turkey last month asked NATO for Patriots, which can be used

to intercept missiles and planes, after weeks of talks with

allies about how to shore up security on its 900-km (560-mile)

border with Syria, which is immersed in civil war.

Foreign ministers from the 28-nation alliance are expected

to give their backing to the move when they meet in Brussels for

a twice-yearly meeting, sending a strong signal they stand

behind their ally Turkey.

"There will be a decision and probably a statement from the

ministers themselves," a NATO diplomat told reporters.

The move follows media reports, citing European and U.S.

officials, that Syria's chemical weapons had been moved and

could be prepared for use in response to dramatic gains by

rebels fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad.

Syria said on Monday it would not use chemical weapons

against its own people after the United States warned it could

take action against any such escalation.

"Turkey's request, when it came to Patriots, was to augment

its air defences with the capacity to deal with the threat of

ballistic missiles and particularly the threat of ballistic

missiles potentially armed with chemical warheads," another NATO

diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said.

The diplomat said the ministers would simply agree on

Tuesday to "augment Turkey's air defences".

"The decision on whether or not to deploy Patriots, and for

how long is, like all NATO decisions when it comes to the

deployment of military forces, a national one," he said.

The United States, Germany and the Netherlands are the

countries expected to supply Turkey with Patriots. Germany and

the Netherlands may need parliamentary approval to send the

missiles and deployment could take weeks.


The first diplomat said that NATO's Supreme Allied Commander

Europe, U.S. Admiral James Stavridis, had the power to deploy

NATO's own fleet of AWACS surveillance planes if he judged it

necessary to counter a specific threat and would not need

ministerial approval.

However, there is no immediate plan for him to do so in the

case of Turkey.

The NATO foreign ministers will take the Patriot decision

immediately after they hold talks in Brussels with Russian

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who is expected to repeat

Moscow's opposition to the move.

Russia, which has a fractious relationship with the military

alliance, has been at odds with NATO over how to end the Syrian

conflict and has vetoed U.N. resolutions aimed at pressuring

Assad to step down.

Turkey repeatedly has scrambled jets along the countries'

joint border and responded in kind when shells from the conflict

came down inside its borders, underlining fears Syria's civil

war could spread to destabilise the region.

A senior State Department official accompanying U.S.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Europe for the NATO talks,

said he did not expect final details this week on the number of

missiles that would be deployed, where or for how long, as site

surveys were still going on.

He said the deployment would not be part of "an inexorable

move towards a no-fly zone" over Syria, of the sort NATO mounted

to defend anti-government rebels in Libya who toppled Muammar

Gaddafi last year.

In Prague, Clinton reiterated a warning against any attempt

by the Syrian government to use its chemical weapons stockpile

against the rebels, calling this a "red line" that would prompt

U.S. action.

"I am not going to telegraph any specifics what we would do

in the event of credible evidence that the Assad regime has

resorted to using chemical weapons against their own people, but

suffice to say, we are certainly planning to take action if that

eventuality were to occur," she said.

The second day of the NATO meeting on Wednesday will focus

on progress in the alliance's efforts to gradually hand over

security control to Afghan forces as it prepares to wind down

its combat operations by the end of 2014.

U.S. officials say Clinton will seek to encourage what

Washington sees as an improving mood between Pakistan and its

neighbour Afghanistan.

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