NATO holding rare emergency meeting at Turkey's request
BRUSSELS: NATO's secretary-general said Tuesday that the alliance "stands in strong solidarity with our ally Turkey," as ambassadors gathered for a rare emergency meeting about the threat faced by a member.
Turkey requested the extraordinary meeting to gauge the threat the Islamic State extremist group poses to Turkey, and the actions Turkish authorities are taking in response, including attacks on Kurdish rebels.
"It is right and timely that we hold this meeting today, to address the instability on Turkey's doorstep, and on NATO's border," secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg said before ambassadors from the 28 member states went into a closed session.
Article 4 of NATO's founding treaty empowers member states to seek such consultations when they consider their "territorial integrity, political independence or security" to be in jeopardy. This was only the fifth such meeting in NATO's 66-year history.
In Ankara, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkish and U.S. officials were discussing the creation of a safe zone near Turkey's border with Syria, which would be cleared of IS group presence and turned into a secure area for Syrian refugees to return.
Speaking at a news conference Tuesday before leaving for China, Erdogan also said it was impossible to advance a peace process with the Kurds as attacks on Turkey continue.
Recently, an IS suicide bombing near Turkey's border with Syria left 32 people dead and an IS attack on Turkish forces killed a soldier.
After months of reluctance, Turkish warplanes last week started striking militant targets in Syria and agreed to allow the U.S. to launch its own strikes from Turkey's strategically located Incirlik Air Base.
In a series of cross-border strikes, Turkey has not only targeted the IS group but also Kurdish fighters affiliated with forces battling IS in Syria and Iraq.
The Syrian Kurds are among the most effective ground forces battling IS and have been backed by U.S.-led airstrikes, but Turkey fears a revival of the Kurdish insurgency in pursuit of an independent state.
The Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, has fought Turkey for autonomy for Kurds in a conflict that has claimed tens of thousands of lives since 1984. The Kurds are an ethnic group with their own language living in a region spanning present-day Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Iran and Armenia.
For some NATO members and independent observers, it's unclear whether Turkey's No. 1 target is IS or the Kurds, said Ian Kearns, director of the European Leadership Network, a London-based think tank.
What's more, Turkish leaders "have actually been arguing that the Kurds in Syria are more of a threat to Turkey," Kearns told The Associated Press.
On Monday, Syria's main Kurdish militia and an activist group said Turkish troops shelled a Syrian village near the border, targeting Kurdish fighters.
"There is no difference between PKK and Daesh," Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters Monday, using an Arabic acronym to refer to the Islamic State group.
"You can't say that PKK is better because it is fighting Daesh," Cavusoglu said during a visit to Lisbon, Portugal.