BRUSSELS: US President Barack Obama led calls Tuesday for Turkey and Russia to end their dispute over the downing of a Russian fighter jet and focus instead on Islamic State, the real enemy. NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg urged key ally Turkey and Russia to change tack and find ways to avoid a repeat of an incident which threatens to scupper efforts to forge a common front against IS after the group’s attacks in Paris left 130 dead.
Obama was frank about what both sides should do. “I want to be very clear: Turkey is a NATO ally. The US supports Turkish rights to defend itself and its airspace and its territory,” Obama said after meeting his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Paris. “We all have a common enemy and that is ISIL and I want to make sure we focus on that threat,” Obama said, using an alternative name for IS.
Erdogan, who has demanded that Russian President Vladimir Putin provide evidence to back up charges Ankara trades in oil with IS, said he too was keen to move on. “We are always willing to resort to the diplomatic language (…) we want to avoid the tensions,” he said. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu meanwhile said Russia should re-establish communication channels instead of making “baseless accusations” that Ankara shot down the jet to keep hidden oil deals with IS which help fund the group’s deadly activities. “We should sit at the table and discuss what to do instead of making baseless accusations,” Davutoglu said in Ankara.
NATO Urges Calm, De-Escalation
For his part, Stoltenberg said: “The focus now should be on how we can de-escalate and calm tensions (and find) mechanisms so that we can avoid the type of incident we saw last week.” He was speaking at the start of a two-day NATO foreign ministers meeting which will review measures adopted by the alliance after the Ukraine crisis to upgrade readiness levels and reassure nervous eastern Europe members who were once ruled from Moscow that the alliance will stand by them.
Stoltenberg says the changes apply globally in what he described as a “dark” security environment, with concerns over Syria looming large. He said US-led NATO has supported Turkey in the past and would announce fresh measures shortly but stressed they were not linked to the downing of the Russian jet along the Syrian border. Washington and its allies fear the Turkey-Russia standoff could undercut efforts to reach a political solution to the crisis in Syria, where Moscow backs long-time ally President Bashar al-Assad and Ankara the rebels seeking to oust him.
Obama, Putin Conciliatory Tone
Obama met Putin on Monday on the sidelines of the climate summit in Paris. “President Obama expressed his regret for the recent loss of a Russian pilot and crew member,” a White House official said after their closed-door meeting. Turkey has returned to Russia the body of the pilot killed when his plane was shot down by the Turkish air force on Nov 24 for allegedly violating its airspace along the Syrian border.
Putin said separately he believed “the decision to shoot down our plane was dictated by the desire to protect the oil supply lines to Turkish territory, right to the ports where it is loaded onto tankers.” He had earlier snubbed a request by Erdogan to meet on the sidelines of the UN climate conference in Paris. “A claim is made through evidence. If there’s such evidence, then put it on the table and we will look,” Erdogan shot back. If the allegations were proved true, then he would resign, the president said.
Ankara has also ruled out making an apology demanded by Moscow. Russia on Monday laid out more details of retaliatory economic sanctions aimed at denting Turkey’s key tourism and agricultural sectors. It will halt fruit and vegetable imports from Turkey after Putin signed a decree banning charter flights and the sale of package holidays, and scrapping Russia’s visa-free regime with Ankara. Russia has also boosted its military presence in Syria, deploying top-range S400 missiles and new naval forces in support of Assad. – AFP