Jens Stoltenberg: Nato stands with Turkey, condemns Russian and Syrian escalation

Nato representatives met on Friday to discuss the alliance’s reaction to the killing of more than 30 Turkish troops in Syria

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Nato has said it stands in solidarity with Turkey in the face of strikes against troops in Syria, condemning Russian and Syrian escalation in Idlib province.

Representatives from the treaty organisation met in Brussels on Friday to coordinate Nato’s response to the killing of 33 Turkish soldiers in air strikes in Syria’s northwest Idlib region.

Turkey had invoked an article four meeting of Nato following the attack. Members of the alliance can request a consultation if they believe their territorial integrity, political independence or security is threatened.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg adjusts his glasses before addressing European Parliament Foreign Affairs committee members at the European Parliament in Brussels, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. Stoltenberg told lawmakers that NATO needs to beef up its military training operation in Iraq once the government in Baghdad requests that it resume work. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg prepares to address European parliament foreign affairs committee members in January on the alliance's need to beef up its military training operation in Iraq once the government in Baghdad requests that it resume work. Francisco Seco / AP Photo

"We call on Russia and the Syria regime to stop the attacks, to stop the indiscriminate air attacks,” Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters following the meetings.

"We call on Syria and Russia to fully engage in UN-led efforts to find a peaceful solution for the conflict in Syria," the Nato head added.

Nato, Mr Stoltenberg said, would intervene if Turkey faced a direct cross border attack on its territory and would look into ways of providing further support for Ankara in the face of the challenges it faces in Syria.

UN chief Antonio Guterres on Friday described the increase in fighting in north-west Syria "one of the most alarming moments" of the Syrian war.

The 15-member Security Council met on Friday and called for a ceasefire.

"We call for the Russian Federation to immediately ground its warplanes and we call for all Syrian forces and their Russian backers to withdraw to the ceasefire lines first established in 2018," US Ambassador to the United Nations, Kelly Craft, told the council.

The US is looking to support Ankara with information-sharing and equipment in response to the attack on Turkish forces, a senior State Department official said on Friday.

"We're working on ways to support the Turks, again this will not involve military moves by American units," the official told reporters.

"As a Nato ally and a major foreign military sales partner, we have various information sharing and equipment relationships with the Turks. We're looking at what we can do on an urgent basis right now to help them."

The attack on the Turkish troops in Idlib has brought Turkey and Russian-backed Syrian forces loyal to Bashar Al Assad one step closer to all-out war.

The two sides previously hashed out a de-escalation agreement last August intended to avert a regime advance. That offensive was delayed but began in Idlib in December.

Recent talks in Moscow between Turkey and Russia failed to reach a fresh agreement.

Turkish Presidnet Recep Erdogan has warned Turkey would launch a full-scale offensive to repel Syrian forces unless they pulled back. He held an emergency meeting with staff for several hours late on Thursday to discuss the attack, which raised the military death toll to 54 so far this month.

As the meeting went on, Turkish officials repeated threats that Turkey could allow Syrian refugees in its borders to reach Europe, unleashing a wave of hundreds of thousands of migrants on to the continent.

The threat would draw Western powers into the standoff over Idlib and stalled negotiations between Ankara and Moscow.

In an interview with the BBC, Mr Stoltenberg addressed the huge challenges presented to Turkey by the war on its border in Syria.

“Turkey is in a difficult situation because they are bordering Syria, they are the Nato ally most effected by the turmoil, the violence we see in Syria and in Iraq. No Nato ally has suffered more terrorist attacks than Turkey and they host close to 4 million refugees,” he said.