Turkey is an important NATO ally, the chief of the military alliance said Sunday, ruling out suspension of its membership amid a recent agreement over northern Syria.
“One must acknowledge that Turkey is an important ally,” NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told German weekly Bild am Sonntag and pointed out that Ankara has legitimate security interests.
“In the fight against ISIL [Daesh], Turkey has made crucial contributions for physically destroying the so-called caliphate. Furthermore: No other ally is hosting so many Syrian refugees, 3.6 million in total. And no other NATO ally has suffered more terrorist attacks than Turkey,” he said, using another name for ISIS.
Stoltenberg dismissed calls by various Western politicians and anti-Turkey lobbying groups to suspend Turkey’s NATO membership or expel if from the alliance, due to its military action against terrorist groups in northeastern Syria.
He underlined that the NATO meetings were providing an opportunity for the member states to openly and honestly exchange their views and discuss their differences.
Stoltenberg also noted that unlike the European Union, NATO had no mechanism allowing suspension, or even expulsion of a member state.
Turkey launched Operation Peace Spring on Oct. 9 to eliminate all terrorist groups from northeastern Syria and create a safe zone along the border, thereby paving the way for the voluntary return of Syrian refugees.
Several NATO members, including the U.S., France and Germany, criticized the operation, expressing concerns over a potential humanitarian crisis and wider instability in the region.
After strong opposition by the U.S. administration, Ankara and Washington reached a deal on Oct. 17 to pause the operation for 120 hours to allow the withdrawal of YPG/PKK terrorists from the planned safe zone.
On Oct. 22, Turkey also reached an agreement with Russia on a 10-point plan to force the YPG/PKK group to withdraw from the planned terror-free zone.
The NATO chief welcomed these agreements in his interview with the German weekly and underlined that there has been progress in reducing tensions and working toward a political solution.
Ankara has repeatedly expressed its determination to clear northern Syria of both Daesh and YPG/PKK terrorist groups.
In its more than 30-year terror campaign against Turkey, the PKK — listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and the European Union — has been responsible for deaths of 40,000 people, including women, children and infants. The YPG is the PKK’s Syrian offshoot.