Syria criticizes NATO move on Patriot missiles

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BEIRUT (AP) — Syria sharply criticized NATO’s move to deploy Patriot missiles along its border with Turkey, calling the decision “provocative,” as the West took a major step toward a possible military role in the civil war.

After getting Cabinet approval, German Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere told reporters that two German Patriot batteries with a total of 400 soldiers would be sent to the border area under NATO command for one year, although the deployment could be shortened.

The announcement also appeared to be a message to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime at a time when Washington and other governments fear Syria may be readying its chemical weapons stockpiles for possible use as fighting with the rebels in the capital, Damascus, and other areas intensifies.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton reiterated concerns Wednesday that “an increasingly desperate Assad regime might turn to chemical weapons” or lose control of them to militant groups.

Mr. Clinton met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Ireland on Thursday, and the two were scheduled to discuss a way forward in Syria later with the Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N. envoy to Syria.

In Iraq, U.S. Under Secretary of Defense James Miller reiterated the Obama administration’s stance that the use of chemical weapons is a “red line.” The administration has said their use would bring a U.S. response.

In recent days, U.S. intelligence has detected signs the Syrian regime was moving chemical weapons components around within several sites, according to a senior U.S. defense official and two U.S. officials. This type of activity had not been detected before, and one of the U.S. officials said it bears further scrutiny.

Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad insisted the deployment of the missile defense system would not affect the determination of Mr. Assad’s government to crush the “terrorists,” using the regime’s term for rebels fighting to topple the longtime leader.

Mr. Mekdad denounced the NATO move and the chemical weapons “chorus” as part of a conspiracy that is possibly laying out the foundations for a military intervention in Syria.

Syria has been careful not to confirm it has chemical weapons while insisting it would never use such weapons against its own people

“I repeat for the hundredth time that even if such weapons exist in Syria, they will not be used against the Syrian people,” Mr. Mekdad said in an interview with Lebanon’s Al-Manar TV station. “We cannot possibly commit suicide; Syria is a responsible country.”

Mr. Mekdad added that the Syrian government is worried the U.S. or some European countries could provide “terrorist” organizations in Syria with chemical weapons to use, then blame the government.

Asked about NATO’s approval to send Patriot missiles to Turkey, Mr. Mekdad said, “There is absolutely no justification for that because Syria will not attack the friendly people of Turkey.”

He said Syria‘s problem was with the Turkish government led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which he said has funded and trained “terrorists” and opened its borders for al Qaeda fighters to come to Syria.

He said the Turkish government was “bankrupt” and was “begging for assistance from NATO countries.”

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