NATO ambassadors, meeting in Brussels Tuesday, expressed strong solidarity with Turkey, a member-nation, over Syria’s downing of a Turkish military reconnaissance plane last week (June 22). But the 28-member military alliance remained notably muted on the looming question of what further action it may be willing to contemplate, vowing only to “remain seized” of developments.
“Let me make this clear: The security of the Alliance is indivisible,” NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in a press briefing following the meeting of the North Atlantic Council Tuesday. “We stand together with Turkey in the spirit of strong solidarity.”
“I would certainly expect that such an incident won’t happen again,” Rasmussen said. “Should anything happen Allies will remain seized of development, we closely monitor the situation and if necessary we will consult and discuss what else could be done.”
The meeting in Brussels came as reports emerged Tuesday suggesting the downed Turkish aircraft, an unarmed RF-4E Phantom reconnaissance fighter jet, may have been conducting a spying mission over Syria. But Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc, while acknowledging in comments Monday it was outfitted for espionage, “strongly denied it was doing so on this particular mission,” the New York Times reported, in an article noting that the two-seat aircraft “has the ability to gather high-resolution imagery about 60 miles from the target, aviation experts said.”
Syria says the downed plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire in self-defense after straying into Syrian airspace and that it did not know it was a Turkish plane. Turkey vehemently denies that Syria didn’t know the plane’s origins, hinting it has some technological evidence, such as intercepted radar communications, to prove it.
The military alliance did not discuss possibly declaring the plane downing as an attack on the entire alliance, Rasmussen indicated. Such a declaration, NATO’s Article 5, has only once been invoked after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.
“We did not discuss Article 5. We have had a consultation based on Article 4, which is normal,” Rasmussen said. “Turkey has requested such a consultation. ….And as far as future developments are concerned, we have stated in today’s statement that we will remain seized of developments.”
“It’s my clear expectation that the situation won’t continue to escalate,” the NATO chief added. “What we have seen is a completely unacceptable act and I would expect Syria to take all necessary steps to avoid such events in the future.”