NATO stands in solidarity with Turkey and recognizes the security concerns that led to the military operation targeting the PKK's affiliates in Afrin, Syria, NATO Deputy Secretary-General Rose Gottemoeller said in an interview with Daily Sabah. Gottemoeller said that during her visit to Turkey, which starts today, she would hold talks with members of the Turkish government and military to discuss the "more demanding security environment" that both sides face together. "This includes violence and turmoil in the region, and the serious threat of terrorism. We will also have talks about our Alliance's continuous adaptation as we prepare for the summit of NATO leaders in Brussels this July," she said.
When asked about the Afrin operation before it was launched late Saturday, Gottemoeller said: "I want to begin by saying that although NATO is not present in Syria, we recognize Turkey's security concerns. Turkey is on the front line of a volatile region and has suffered horrendous terrorist attacks."
The Turkish president questioned the alliance for its silence over the attacks coming from People's Protection Units (YPG)-held areas in Syria. Will NATO ease its criticism of Turkey and take a role in this operation?
Turkey is a highly valued ally, and NATO continues to help Turkey respond to its demanding security environment. We have strengthened Turkey's air defenses against the threat of ballistic missiles from Syria. We have enhanced patrols by AWACS (airborne warning and control system) surveillance planes over Turkish territory, and we have increased our naval presence in the eastern part of the Mediterranean.
The dispute between NATO allies Turkey and the U.S. is growing, mainly due to differences on Syria. Do you think this will lead to a crisis in NATO?
I am certain Turkey will continue to play a leading role in our alliance. On a personal level, I see that every day at NATO headquarters in Brussels. At meetings of the North Atlantic Council, NATO's decision-making body, all 29 allies are at the table working together. Cooperation is in NATO's DNA; it is one of our greatest strengths. NATO is like a family, and as in any family, there can be disagreements from time to time. However, in NATO, we have always been able to agree on the fundamentals: standing together and defending each other. We have done that for decades and this will not change.
You previously played a peace-brokering role when the German-Turkish spat erupted in August of last year. How are your relations with your Turkish interlocutors and how do you see Turkey's role within the NATO alliance?
I was pleased last year to lead a delegation to visit Konya Air Base where NATO AWACS surveillance aircraft operate. These planes play a vital role in support of Turkey and the Coalition to Defeat Daesh. It was a privilege to meet the men and women carrying out this important mission as well as their Turkish hosts. In those meetings, as with every meeting I have with Turkish interlocutors, the relationships are excellent. I know that the experience is the same for NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.
Turkey makes essential contributions to NATO operations and the fight against Daesh. You help build stability beyond NATO's borders by contributing to our operations in Afghanistan and Kosovo, as a contributor to all NATO Trust Funds for Ukraine and by actively supporting our training for Iraqi officers. As we prepare for the NATO summit, we are working to further strengthen our collective deterrence and defense and to project stability beyond our borders. Turkey plays a key role in both.
At the same time, NATO has strengthened Turkey's air defenses against the threat of ballistic missiles from Syria, we have enhanced patrols by AWACS surveillance planes over Turkish territory, and we have increased our naval presence in the eastern part of the Mediterranean. All this demonstrates NATO's strong commitment to the defense of Turkey.
Are there any updates regarding the investigation looking into the incident that took place at the Trident Javelin exercise in Stavanger in which the Turkish president and the founder of the Turkish Republic were being targeted?
NATO took immediate action to address this incident. As soon as we became aware, the secretary-general spoke with President [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan by phone, and he met with Turkey's Minister for EU Affairs Ömer Çelik and the Chief of the General Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar. NATO very much regrets the offence that was caused as a result of these incidents, and NATO military authorities have been investigating the details of what happened during the exercise and what measures need to be taken to prevent such incidents from happening again. The secretary-general has stayed in close touch with the Turkish government, including President Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Mevlüt Cavuşoğlu, throughout the process.