In sign of improved US ties, Turkey joins NATO missile defense system
ANKARA, Turkey - An early-warning radar will be stationed in Turkey’s southeast as part of NATO’s missile defense system, the foreign ministry announced yesterday. The deployment reflects improving relations with the United States, which were strained after the Iraq invasion.
The system is capable of countering ballistic missile threats from Turkey’s neighbor Iran, which has warned Turkey that deploying the radar at the military installation will escalate regional tensions. Turkey insists the shield does not target a specific country, and the ministry statement did not mention Iran.
Turkey agreed to host the radar in September in the framework of the NATO missile defense architecture, saying it would strengthen both its own and NATO’s defense capacities.
“In this context, the site surveys and relevant legal arrangements have also been finalized, and accordingly a military installation in Kurecik has been designated as the radar site,’’ Foreign Ministry spokesman Selcuk Unal said. “That installation was used in the past for similar purposes.’’
Kurecik in Malatya province lies some 435 miles west of the Iranian border.
Pentagon spokesman Colonel Dave Lapan said the US hopes to have the radar deployed there by the end of the year.
The deployment in Turkey, the biggest Muslim voice in NATO, signals improving ties with Washington since the 2003 Iraq invasion. Turkey also closely works with US forces in NATO operations in Afghanistan and Libya, though it is not directly involved in combat.
Earlier this week, Turkey confirmed talks with the US for possible deployment of Predator drones on its soil after the US leaves Iraq. The US currently shares drone surveillance data with Turkey to aid its fight against Kurdish rebels who have bases in Iraq. Turkish authorities did not specify whether they want armed drones or just surveillance ones.
Turkey’s announcement about the radar came a day after Romania signed a deal to host a crucial part of a US missile defense system. Romania’s President Traian Basescu announced the deal after meeting with President Obama in Washington.
NATO members agreed last year at a summit in Lisbon, Portugal, to an antimissile system over Europe to protect against Iranian ballistic missiles. A compromise not to pinpoint Iran was reached with Turkey, which had threatened to block the deal if its neighbor was explicitly named as a threat.
Turkey has built close economic ties with Iran and has been at odds with the United States on its stance toward Iran’s nuclear program, arguing for a diplomatic solution to the standoff rather than sanctions.
But the agreement over hosting the radar comes at a time when Turkey and Iran appear to be differing on their approach toward Syria, with Turkey becoming increasingly critical of Iranian ally Syria’s brutal suppression of antiregime protests.
Under the NATO plans, a limited system of US antimissile interceptors and radars already planned for Europe - to include interceptors in Romania and Poland as well as the radar in Turkey - would be linked to expanded European-owned missile defenses. That would create a broad system that protects every NATO country against medium-range missile attack.
Russia opposes the planned missile defense system, which it worries could threaten its own nuclear missiles or undermine their deterrence capability.