ANKARA (Reuters) - NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the Western alliance had no intention of intervening in Syria even in the event of a U.N. mandate to protect civilians, and urged Middle East countries to find a way to end the spiraling violence.
Rasmussen told Reuters Friday he also rejected the possibility of providing logistical support for proposed “humanitarian corridors” to ferry relief to towns and cities bearing the brunt of President Bashar al-Assad’s crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.
“We have no intention whatsoever to intervene in Syria,” Rasmussen said in an interview, during a visit to mark the 60th anniversary of Turkey joining the alliance.
While NATO had acted under a United Nations mandate to protect civilians in Libya and had also received active support from several fellow Arab countries, neither condition had been fulfilled in Syria.
Asked if NATO’s stance would change if the United Nations provided a mandate, Rasmussen was doubtful.
“No, I don’t think so because Syria is also a different society, it is much more complicated ethnically, politically, religiously. That’s why I do believe that a regional solution should be found,” he said.
Thousands of civilians have been killed by Syrian security forces since an uprising against Assad’s rule began last March. The government says more than 2,000 soldiers and police have been killed by foreign-backed “terrorists.”
International powers along with the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the Arab League will meet in Tunis on February 24 as part of a newly-created “Friends of Syria Group” to look for a way out of a crisis that has raised fears of wider sectarian strife between Sunni and Shi‘ite Muslims.
Turkey, a Muslim NATO member bordering Syria, along with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, has been at the forefront of regional efforts to persuade Assad to end the brutal repression and give way to protesters’ demands for more democracy and freedom.
Earlier this month, China and Russia vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution on Syria that was partly based on an Arab League plan, prompting Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to accuse major powers of regarding Syria as a “bargaining chip.”
Iran is the Assad government’s other main source of support. Turkey has sought to play the role of “honest broker” between its Western partners and neighboring Iran, over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.
Iran was irked by Turkey’s agreement to host a NATO anti-missile radar defense system.
And concern has been voiced inside Turkey over the possibility that information provided by the radar system could be passed to Israel. Rasmussen sought to dispel such concerns.
“It is a NATO system and the data within that system will not be shared with third countries. It is a NATO system and of course we will share data within the NATO framework,” he said.
Having championed the cause for a Palestinian state, Turkey is now on bad terms with Israel, which is a regional partner of NATO, while not a member.
Writing by Simon Cameron-Moore; Editing by Sophie Hares