BRUSSELS: North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) vowed strong support for Turkey’s fight against “terrorism” at an emergency meeting on Tuesday called to discuss Ankara’s strikes against the self-styled Islamic State (IS) and Kurdish rebels.
The rare talks came as an uncompromising President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Ankara could not continue its peace process with the Kurds amid fresh attacks on Turkish targets.
Turkey’s decision to lump IS together with Kurdish forces who bitterly oppose the jihadist group has surprised some Western allies, but the message on Tuesday was united behind the alliance’s only Muslim member.
“All allies expressed their strong support for Turkey and we all stand together in solidarity with Turkey. We strongly condemn the terrorist attacks,” NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said after the meeting of the alliance’s ambassadors in Brussels.
Stoltenberg said Turkey had not requested any military help, it has the second largest armed forces in NATO after the United States, and he welcomed its increased effort against the IS group.
Turkey requested the meeting of all 28 NATO nations after a devastating suicide bombing blamed on IS militants in the largely Kurdish border town of Suruc last week killed 32 people.
Once-reluctant Ankara has since launched attacks against IS targets in Syria and Kurd positions in northern Iraq, despite the fact that Kurdish forces have had some of the biggest military successes against the jihadists.
Turkey has also agreed with the United States to create an “IS-free zone “in northern Syria and dropped its previous refusal to let US aircraft use its strategic Incirlik airbase to launch attacks on the jihadists.
Erdogan, whose relations with his Western allies have been bedevilled by human rights concerns, insisted Ankara would press its attacks to the full and said he considered peace talks with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) dead in the water.
“It is not possible to carry on the (peace) process with those who target our national unity and brotherhood,” Erdogan told reporters before leaving on a visit to China, referring to the PKK.
“Any step back is out of the question. This is a process and this process will continue with the same determination.” stated Erdogan
Erdogan added that a safe zone would help the return of 1.7 million Syrian refugees in Turkey.
Ankara, which along with its Western allies officially considers the PKK a terrorist organisation, launched peace negotiations with the group’s jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan in late 2012, but the two sides have yet to reach an accord.
The sudden change of course in recent days has raised questions in Western capitals over whether Ankara, fearful of seeing a Kurd state emerge on its southern border, is more interested in limiting Kurdish capabilities than in tackling IS in Iraq and Syria.
Kurdish groups say Turkish forces also targeted them in Syria as well but Ankara has denied the claims.
Around 30 Kurdish representatives rallied outside the European Parliament in Brussels as the NATO talks were taking place.
“Turkey is not waging war against IS but against the Kurdish people,” said Zubeyir Aydar of the Kurdish National Congress.
French President Francois Hollande said on Monday that Turkey must “be careful not to confuse the target” while Stoltenberg on Sunday also cautioned Ankara about ending peace efforts with the Kurds.
NATO states have until now seen Kurdish groups in Syria and Iraq as one of the most effective military options against IS as it continues its brutal advance.
Higlighting the key role the Kurds play in the conflict, reports Tuesday said Kurdish and Syrian troops had pushed IS out of the northeastern city of Hasakeh after a month of bitter fighting.
The Netherlands ambassador to NATO, Marjanne de Kwaasteniet, said “reconciliation should continue” between Turkey and the PKK, while backing Ankara’s fight against IS and defence against alleged “terrorist acts of PKK”.
Diplomatic sources said all NATO members agreed at the meeting that Turkey had to right to defend itself but some also voiced caution that the response should be proportionate and that peace efforts should continue.
“The meeting welcomed the increased Turkish effort and accepted Turkey’s right to attack but some expressed concern that the peace process should not be put at risk,” one diplomatic source said.
“There was no criticism of Turkey,” another diplomatic source added.
Turkey called for the NATO meeting under Article 4 which allows for consultations when a country feels under threat.