NATO offers solidarity with Turkey but muted on response over downed plane

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NATO ambassadors, meeting in Brussels Tuesday, expressed strong solidarity with member nation Turkey over Syria’s downing of a Turkish military reconnaissance plane last week (June 22). But the 28-member military alliance remained 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 White House, echoing the expressions of solidarity from Brussels, also praised Ankara’s “measured response” so far.

“The United States and NATO stand in solidarity with Turkey,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told journalists on Air Force One Tuesday.  “We will work with Turkey and other partners to hold the Assad regime accountable and to continue to push forward for Syria’s needed political transition.”

“We commend Turkey for its measured response thus far,” Carney added.

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 the craft 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 downed 2-seat aircraft “has the ability to gather high-resolution imagery about 60 miles from the target, aviation experts said.”

Syria says the plane was shot down in self-defense after straying into Syrian airspace and that it did not know it was a Turkish plane. Ankara vehemently denies this, hinting it has some  technological evidence–such as intercepted radar communications–to prove it.

Back in Brussels Tuesday, the military alliance did not discuss possibly declaring the plane downing an attack on the entire alliance, Rasmussen indicated. Such an invocation of NATO’s Article 5 has only once occurred—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.”

(Photo: NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen briefs the media after a meeting of the North Atlantic Council at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels June 26, 2012. NATO member states condemned Syria on Tuesday for its shooting down of a Turkish military jet, calling it “unacceptable” and demanding that Damascus take steps to prevent further incidents.   REUTERS/Francois Lenoir.)