NATO says welcomes Turkey's increased fight against Islamic State

ANKARA (Reuters) - NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Friday welcomed Turkey’s increased efforts to fight Islamic State militants in Syria and said training local forces was the key to battling the hardline Sunni Muslim group.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg addresses a news conference at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, November 30, 2015. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

At a joint news conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, Stoltenberg also said NATO had increased its military presence in Turkey, which he described as a “strong and highly valued” member of the Atlantic alliance.

“I welcome the increased efforts of Turkey but also other allies in fighting ISIL in Syria and also I believe the key is to train local forces,” Stoltenberg said.

“It is a very complex and very difficult situation in Syria, but there is no alternative to just stay outside. We have to try to find a solution and also to fight ISIL in Syria.”

Turkey launched its first major military incursion into Syria just over two weeks ago in a bid to push Islamic State back from its border and prevent Syrian Kurdish militia fighters from seizing territory in their wake.

Turkey has long argued for an internationally enforced no-fly zone to create a safe area for civilians in northern Syria, but Cavusoglu said that the U.N. Security Council would have to take a decision on any such move.

Cavusoglu also said Turkey had informed the German government that a group of its lawmakers would be allowed to visit the Incirlik air base in southern Turkey at the beginning of October.

Turkey had previously blocked such a visit in response to a German parliamentary resolution declaring the 1915 massacre of Armenians by Ottoman forces a “genocide”, demanding the German government distance itself from the move.

In Berlin, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he saw Ankara’s decision as a sign Turkey was ready to resume dialogue. Tensions between the two NATO allies have been strained over issues including the genocide vote.

“I am very glad that this issue now seems to be solved,” Steinmeier said. “All efforts should be focused on fighting Daesh (Islamic State) and the German presence at the Incrilik air base is part of the German contribution.”

Reporting by Ece Toksabay, Tulay Karadeniz and Humeyra Pamuk; Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by David Dolan