NATO head urges Syria political solution, rules out intervention

Reuters News

3/27/2013 9:39:00 AM - Reuters News

By Gabriela Baczynska

MOSCOW (Reuters) - NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen called for a political solution to the Syrian crisis on Wednesday, ruling out Western military intervention despite a plea for U.S. protection by a foe of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Opposition leader Moaz Alkhatib said on Tuesday he had asked U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry for American forces to help defend rebel-controlled northern parts of Syria with Patriot surface-to-air missiles now based in Turkey.

But NATO Secretary-General Rasmussen stuck firmly to his insistence that the 28-nation alliance would not play a military role in the two-year-old Syrian conflict, which has claimed an estimated 70,000 lives.

"We don't have any intention to intervene militarily in Syria," he said, speaking to Russian students in Moscow via a video link from Brussels.

"I do believe that we need a political solution in Syria and I hope the international community will send a unified and clear message to all parties in Syria that we need a political solution," Rasmussen said.

Divisions between the Western powers and Russia and China have prevented decisive action on Syria at the United Nations.

Three NATO countries - the United States, the Netherlands and Germany - sent Patriot missiles to Turkey early this year to protect Turkish cities from possible attack from Syria.

Alkhatib told Reuters on Wednesday that the refusal by international powers to provide Patriot missile support sent a message to Assad to "do what you want".

Rasmussen said there was a clear difference between Syria and Libya, where NATO air strikes helped topple Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

"In Libya we took responsibility for the operation based on a United Nations mandate to protect the Libyan population against attacks from its own government...and we had active support from the countries in the region," he said.

"None of these conditions are fulfilled in Syria, there is no United Nations mandate, there is no call on NATO to intervene in Syria, even the opposition in Syria does not ask for a foreign military intervention," he said.

The six Patriot missile batteries dispatched by the NATO allies are stationed around three Turkish cities.

They have a short range - they can defend an area of just 15 to 20 km (10 to 13 miles) against a ballistic missile, according to NATO - and in their current positions are too far away to provide an effective shield for northern Syria.

The U.S. missiles, deployed around the city of Gaziantep, are closest to the Syrian border, about 60 km (37 miles) away, but the German and Dutch batteries are 100 km (60 miles) or more from the Syrian border.

(Writing by Adrian Croft; Editing by Angus MacSwan)