NATO CHIEF VISITING TURKEY MONDAY
Last Updated: 2018-04-16
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ANKARA, April 16 (NNN-XINHUA) -- NATO Secretar- General Jens Stoltenberg arrived here Monday to meet leaders of alliance member Turkey amid international tensions sparked by the United States-led coalition's air raids in Syria at the weekend.

Stoltenberg is expected to meet Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, Defence Minister Nurettin Canikli and Chief of General Staff Hulusi Akar during his short visit in Ankara to discuss the Syrian crisis and some other topics, according to diplomatic sources.

Turkey's Foreign Ministry on Saturday welcomed the US-led air strikes in Syria, saying that they were an appropriate reaction to the suspected chemical attack against civilians. Turkey is caught in the middle of a fight while its president seems to act as a mediator trying to de-escalate the situation which could lead to a wider global conflict.

"We have demanded sensitivity to be displayed by all coalition forces, particularly the US and Russia. Current developments show that the tension is likely to be easing," Erdogan told reporters on Friday regarding his phone talks with his American and Russian counterparts, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, before the air raids.

After the raids, Erdogan also spoke with British Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron.

Ever since the suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria's Douma on April 7, Turkish leaders have made a series of statements condemning the attack, calling on the international community to act against this horror, and blaming Damascus regime forces of being behind it.

Erdogan criticized that the US and Russia "rely on their military might and turn neighbouring Syria into a wrestling ground" but he also emphasized that Turkey doesn't intend to give up its alliance with the US nor its strategic relations with Russia to solve regional problems.

"Turkey has a unique position to be a mediator in this crisis because we are honest in our efforts to stop the bloodshed in our neighbour," said an official from Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to Xinhua after the air raids in Syria.

He also insisted that the airstrikes would not disrupt the Astana process in Syria that was brokered last year between Moscow, Ankara and Tehran.

Turkey is caught in the heat of the Syrian crisis where it launched an offensive in late January in the northwest region of Afrin to root out a US-backed Kurdish militia, considered as a threat to Turkey's national security. Moreover, Turkey hosts some 3.5 million displaced Syrians since the beginning of the war in 2011.

Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister, Bekir Bozdag, announced on Saturday that the Incirlik air base in the southern province of Adana where US serviceman are deployed, was not used in the airstrikes on Syria.

Although Turkey has been a loyal NATO member since 1952, its growing defence cooperation with Moscow in recent years has sparked concerns in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

The Turkish-Russian co-operation includes a recent 2.0 billion US dollars deal of S-400 surface-to-air missile systems. Experts said that the S-400 deal came as a real blow to Ankara's ties with its traditional western allies.

At the same time, military collaboration with the US has been scaled down amid very tumultuous tensions and differences over the Syrian war. -- NNN-XINHUA