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NATO to deploy Patriot missiles to protect Turkey

BRUSSELS — NATO’s plan to buttress Turkey against potential attack from Syria calls for deploying US, German, and Dutch Patriot missile-defense batteries under the operational control of the alliance’s military command, Western officials said Monday.

The plan, which is expected to be endorsed by NATO’s foreign ministers when they meet in Brussels on Tuesday, would be the most direct action in the Syrian conflict yet by an alliance that has remained cautious about intervention there.

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The move has been given added impetus by reports in recent days of increased activity at some of Syria’s chemical weapons sites, officials said. For months, Turkey has expressed growing concerns about the potential of missile attacks from Syria as relations between the two countries have worsened, and last month it requested the deployment of Patriot batteries.

A senior NATO official said the political strategy was for the alliance to declare its support for Turkey’s request for help in strengthening its air defenses, and to welcome the intention of the three allied nations that have Patriot missile batteries to deploy the systems in Turkey.

It would then be up to the United States, Germany, and the Netherlands to decide how many batteries to deploy and how long they should stay.

Surveys are being conducted of 10 potential sites, mostly in southeastern Turkey, each of which could be defended by one or more Patriot batteries. But the alliance does not have enough batteries to cover all of the sites, so fewer sites will be protected, the NATO official added, speaking on condition of anonymity.

A senior US official traveling to the NATO meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Monday said it would probably take several weeks to deploy the missile-defense systems in Turkey. The Patriot batteries, the NATO official said, would be configured to defend against a ballistic missile attack from Syria. In an antimissile mode, the Patriot missiles fired by the batteries would have a range of 16 miles, which means they would not be able to cross into Syrian airspace.

In a meeting with the leader of Turkey on Monday, President Vladimir Putin of Russia, one of Syria’s few remaining allies, said he understood Turkish concerns about its border security after Syrian shells hit Turkish territory in recent months.

But Putin warned that Turkey’s request that NATO deploy Patriot missiles on its border with Syria could escalate fears of a wider conflict. Turkey and its Western and Arab allies are calling for the ouster of President Bashar Assad of Syria.

The move to deploy the Patriots has spurred speculation among some experts who favor greater international involvement in the conflict in Syria that it might be an indirect means to extend protection to the forces opposing Assad in northern Syria, by programming the batteries to target Syrian warplanes that are mounting attacks in that part of the country.

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