Turkey plans to deploy an early warning radar by the end of the year as part of NATO’s missile defense system for Europe, officials said Friday.
Leaders of the 28-member NATO alliance endorsed plans in Lisbon last year to launch a Europe-wide ballistic missile shield, which US officials say is aimed at thwarting missile threats from Iran.
Technical negotiations about the deployment of the defense system in Turkey “have reached a final stage,” Selcuk Unal, spokesman for the Turkish foreign ministry, said in a written statement.
“It is foreseen that the early warning radar system dedicated by the United States to NATO will be deployed in our country,” Unal said.
“Turkey’s hosting of this element will contribute to the … defense system, which is developed under NATO’s new strategic concept (and) strengthen NATO’s defense capacity and Turkey’s national defense system,” he added.
In Washington, the Pentagon on Friday welcomed Turkey’s decision as a step forward for the missile defense project, which initially will rely on naval ships equipped with interceptors designed to knock out incoming missiles.
“The hope is to have it deployed by the end of this year,” spokesman Colonel Dave Lapan told reporters.
“This component will link in to the ballistic missile defense capable AEGIS ships that we operate in the Mediterrean,” Lapan said.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Turkey’s decision marked “a critical contribution to the Alliance’s overall defence against current and emerging ballistic missile threats.”
He further applauded Ankara for its contribution to “NATO’s capability to provide protection to its European territory populations and forces against the growing threat posed by the proliferation of ballistic missiles.”
Turkey, concerned over its delicate position with neighbouring Iran, persuaded NATO allies to leave out any mention of Iran when the missile defense plan was approved at an alliance summit in November.
Reacting to Turkey’s announcement, Russia’s foreign ministry restated Moscow’s demand for guarantees that “the anti-missile systems deployed in Europe are not aimed at the strategic nuclear forces of Russia”.