ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey is to make an imminent official request to NATO to station Patriot missiles along its border with Syria, a senior Turkish foreign ministry official said on Wednesday.
NATO-member Turkey has already bolstered its own military presence along the 910-km (560-mile) border and has been responding in kind to gunfire and mortar shells hitting its territory from fighting between Syrian rebels and Syrian government forces.
“Concerning this topic (Patriot missiles), an imminent official request is to be made,” the official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
The official said there was a potential missile threat to Turkey from Syria and that Turkey had a right to take steps to counter such a threat. He gave no further details.
“The deployment of these type of missiles as a step to counter threats is routine under NATO regulations,” the official said, adding that they had been deployed in Turkey before such as during the second Gulf War.
Asked about such a request, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said: “Everything will be considered within the framework of possible preparations”, state-run Anatolian news agency reported.
Davutoglu’s comments were made to Turkish reporters in Brussels on Wednesday. The minister did not elaborate.
Turkish broadcaster NTV, which was present at the briefing, earlier reported Davutoglu as saying NATO was already preparing to deploy the missiles inside Turkey but later retracted that report. A Turkish official denied the minister had made those comments.
A NATO spokeswoman in Brussels said: “We haven’t received a request. As the Secretary-General said on Monday, the allies will consider any request that is brought to the North Atlantic Council.”
Turkish newspapers have previously reported that Ankara was planning to make a formal request to NATO to deploy Patriot missiles but have not said how soon that request would be made.
NATO has deployed Patriot missiles to Turkey twice before, once in 1991 and later in 2003 during both Gulf Wars. The missiles were then provided by the Netherlands.
Turkey has become increasingly concerned about security along its shared border with Syria and has summoned its NATO allies twice this year over the issue, saying the alliance had a duty to protect its own frontier.
Turkey’s military has been firing at government military targets inside Syria in response to mortar rounds launched from its southern neighbor landing on its own soil.
In the most serious cross-border escalation of the Syrian uprising, five Turkish civilians were killed in early October by a mortar fired from Syria landing in a Turkish border town.
Turkey’s Chief-of-Staff has said his troops would respond “with greater force” if shells continued to land in Turkey, and parliament also authorized last month the deployment of troops beyond Turkey.
But Turkey is reluctant to take any unilateral military action inside Syria and while Washington has vowed to stand by Ankara, it has found itself increasingly isolated and frustrated by a lack of international consensus on how to end the conflict.
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan had long cultivated good relations with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but became a harsh critic after Syria’s popular revolt began last year. Erdogan has allowed Syrian rebels to organize on Turkish soil and pushed for a foreign-protected safe zone inside Syria.
Ankara has twice invoked Article 4 of the NATO charter this year which provides for consultations when a member state feels its territorial integrity, political independence or security is under threat.
Turkey is also sheltering more than 110,000 Syrian refugees in camps along the Syrian border who have fled the fighting in their homeland.
Reporting by Gulsen Solaker in Ankara and Adrian Croft in Brussels; Writing by Jonathon Burch; Editing by Michael Roddy