* US says deployment of missiles could still take weeks
* Officials say discussion not part of plan for no-fly zone
* Russia expected to raise objections to deployment
* US sees promising signs from Pakistan over Afghanistan
By David Brunnstrom
PRAGUE, Dec 3 U.S. Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton hopes NATO allies will reach a deal this week on
stationing Patriot missiles in Turkey to defend against possible
Syrian attacks, senior U.S. officials said.
The 28 NATO allies meet in Brussels on Tuesday and
Turkey, which has made a formal request to NATO to help it
bolster its air defences, is a big supporter of rebels fighting
to oust Syria's President Bashar al-Assad.
It has repeatedly scrambled jets along the countries' joint
border and responded in kind when shells from the conflict have
landed inside Turkey, underlining fears Syria's 20-month-old
revolt could spread to destabilise the region.
"We're all positively considering (the request)," a senior
State Department official said, briefing reporters en route to
Europe, where Clinton started a regional trip with a stop in
"(We) are hopeful that NATO will be in a position to respond
positively ... and that the three contributing countries that
are being considered - the United States, Germany and the
Netherlands - will be in a position to also contribute."
The official said he did not expect final details this week
on the numbers of missiles that would be deployed, or on where
or for how long, as site surveys were still going on.
He also said it would also probably be "at least a matter of
weeks" before deployment, as national decisions still had to be
made and site surveys completed and agreed.
Russia, which will join the NATO meeting, has been at odds
with the alliance over how to end the Syrian conflict. Russia
has vetoed U.N. resolutions aimed at pressuring Assad to step
down and Moscow's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, is expected
to raise concerns over the missile deployment plans.
The State Department official 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
The official also rejected the idea that deployment of
Patriots in Turkey would create a de-facto safe haven in Syria's
border area with Turkey, as the missiles would be used to defend
against planes or missiles that crossed into Turkish airspace.
The possibility of establishing a no-fly zone is expected to
be discussed at a meeting of the Friends of Syria group in
Marrakech next week.
"We're always prepared - and the Secretary has made that
clear - to look at ways in which we can help the people of
Syria," the official said. "But ...a no-fly zone is not on the
agenda of any NATO talks this week."
France, Britain, Turkey and Gulf Arab states have already
recognised a rebel coalition as the legitimate representative of
the Syrian people. The United States has been more cautious and
not offered full recognition, or arms the rebels are seeking.
Clinton will also hold talks in Brussels on Monday with
Pakistan's Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar and its military
chief General Ashfaq Kayani.
U.S. officials say she will seek encourage what Washington
sees as an improving mood between Pakistan and its neighbour
Afghanistan, where U.S.-led forces are seeking to extricate
themselves from a long and bloody war.
A second U.S. official pointed to better signs since
Washington's ties with Islamabad hit a low in 2011 after U.S.
forces killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden while he was
hiding in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad.
He noted exchanges of high-level visits between Pakistan and
Afghanistan, where NATO still has a large multi-national force
that is due to end its combat operations in 2014, and Pakistan's
release of Taliban prisoners as requested by the Afghans to help
smooth the way for peace talks with the Islamists.
"I think the Pakistanis are actually pressing forward (on
improving relations) because, like a lot of people in the
region, they recognise that 2014 is not so far away," he said.
As well as discussions on security, the United States had
made efforts to expand the economic relationship with Pakistan
and this was an issue expected to come up in Monday's talks.