BRUSSELS NATO allies are expected to take several weeks to deploy Patriot surface-to-air missiles to defend Turkey from a spillover of Syria's civil war, a NATO spokeswoman said on Friday.
Turkey formally asked for the Patriot missiles earlier this month after weeks of talks with NATO allies about how to shore up security on its 900-km (560-mile) border.
NATO experts are in Turkey looking at sites to place the missiles. If deployed, they would be under the control of NATO's top command.
Once the team has reported back to NATO, commanders will draw up a recommendation to alliance ambassadors who are expected to give a go-ahead early next week, according to NATO diplomats.
"I would expect that if the decision is taken it could take several weeks to deploy, rather than months," NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said.
Germany, the Netherlands and the United States have Patriots available. Some of those countries may need parliamentary approval to send the missiles and Lungescu said she did not want to judge how long those national procedures would take.
Turkey has repeatedly scrambled fighter jets along the frontier and responded in kind to stray Syrian shells flying into its territory.
Syria, Iran and Russia have all criticized Turkey's request for Patriots, saying the move would deepen instability in the region.
Lungescu said U.S. Admiral James Stavridis, NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Europe, would have ultimate operational command of the missiles, but he would delegate that responsibility to NATO military commanders on the ground.
"Who has the finger on the button? It's NATO, and Turkey is a full member of NATO," she told a media briefing.
Asked about Iranian warnings to Turkey not to deploy the Patriots, Lungescu said: "In terms of Iran or any other country in the region, Turkey has made it very clear in its request that this is purely a defensive measure. It is in no way linked to any offensive measures or to support a possible no-fly zone."
Ankara asked for the missiles to defend its people and territory and to "deter any threat of aggression from anybody outside Turkey so that anybody who might think of threatening or attacking Turkey would have to think twice," she said.
(Reporting by Adrian Croft; Editing by Tom Pfeiffer)