Nato: Syria chemical weapons warrant immediate international reaction

The NATO secretary-general says the alliance will authorize Tuesday the deployment of a missile defense system to Turkey “within weeks” in response to the continuing violence in Syria and concern its government might resort to using chemical weapons. Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen made the prediction as he went into a series of meetings with alliance foreign ministers, as well as partner nations and Russia.

Secretary-General Rasmussen says the NATO ministers will “demonstrate our determination to deter against any threats” to the alliance’s southeastern border. That border is the Turkish-Syrian frontier, with Syria’s more than year-long civil war raging on the other side.

Turkey asked for NATO help after Syrian government shelling near the border hit some areas inside Turkey.

The alliance is expected to deploy American Patriot missile defense batteries in southeastern Turkey, but Rasmussen said specific decisions will be left to individual countries. The Patriot system is designed to intercept incoming missiles, not to strike targets on the ground.

But Russia is concerned about any NATO missile deployment, even if the missiles are only defensive. Rasmussen says he has tried to reassure visiting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and will do so again when Lavrov meets with the NATO foreign ministers on Tuesday.

“This is a purely defensive measure,” he said.”We have no intention to prepare offensive operations. So the purpose of this possible deployment is to ensure effective defense and protection of Turkey.”Secretary-General Rasmussen called Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons “a matter of great concern,” which adds to the urgency of deploying the missile defense system to Turkey. He called any use of chemical weapons “completely unacceptable,” and said it would result in “an immediate reaction.”The NATO ministers are also expected to discuss the ongoing mission in Afghanistan. On Monday, the secretary general told visiting Afghan reporters the alliance’s commitment to Afghanistan will continue even after its combat role ends in two years. But he said the Afghan government must also fulfill its commitments to the international community to improve governance, fight corruption, protect human rights, including women’s rights, and to hold transparent and credible elections in 2014 and 2015.

Secretary-General Rasmussen said he expects the Afghan security forces to be able to take full responsibility for the country by the end of 2014 as planned, and he repeated that the NATO role will change to support and training only at that time. He said that will be a focus of the foreign ministers’ meeting, along with ways to ensure continued foreign funding for the Afghan forces.