NATO approves Patriot missiles for Turkey but says no intention to intervene in Syria

Turkish military station at the border gate with Syria, across from Syrian rebel-controlled Tel Abyad town, in Akcakale, Turkey, Oct. 7, 2012.

The U.S. will help build a shield to protect Turkey from chemical weapons attacks or any incoming missile from Syria by providing Patriot Missile batteries within the next few weeks. Under NATO agreement, the U.S., Germany and the Netherlands will deploy the batteries and set them up inside of Turkey by the beginning of 2013. Syria is believed to have the world's third largest supply of chemical weapons after the U.S. and Russia.

"Patriots are effective as interceptors against chemical weapons." said NATO Secretary General Fogh Rasmussen. He told journalists attending the NATO ministerial meeting that the deployment is aimed at "protecting and defending Turkish territory against any missile attack."

The NATO head made clear that recent reports that Syria is readying chemical weapons supplies for possible usage have not changed the position of the military alliance.

"Our intention hasn't changed," Rasmussen said. "We have no intention to intervene militarily."

Cross-border shelling has killed at least five Turkish civilians in past months. The Patriot shield will protect Turks and the Syrian refugees who have swarmed into overflowing refugee camps on the Turkish side of the border. The U.S. estimates that 130,000 Syrians have sought refuge in Turkish camps.

A U.S. official traveling with Secretary Clinton told CBS News that the shield will not carve out a defacto safe haven passage along the Turkish-Syrian border as the Patriots can only be deployed after the incoming-fire enters Turkish airspace.

Russia remains one of Syrian President Bashar al Assad's few allies. Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov claimed that the Syrian shelling inside of Turkey was unintentional and that "the threats should not be overstated." He went on to downplay recent reports about activity at Syrian chemical weapons facilities as "rumors." He said that Russia formally inquired about recent reports of activity at Syrian chemical weapons facilities and the government denied them.

During a press conference following the NATO-Russia Council meeting, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov said that Russia has a "purely political concern that the conflict is being increasingly militarized." Ironically, Russia continues to provide weapons to Syrian President Bashar al Assad. According to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Russia "will not commit to stopping sending arms" due to contracts that pre-existed the crisis. She made those remarks to CBS News in Vladivostok, Russia in September.

Syrian civilians and rebels who are under aerial bombardment by Bashar al-Assad's regime will not be protected under NATO's action. More than 38,000 Syrians have died since the beginning of the conflict.

When asked by CBS News whether NATO had a moral imperative to protect Syrian civilians from attacks by their own government, NATO Secretary General Rasmussen replied that it "the responsibility for the international community to facilitate and insure the peaceful political solution sooner rather than later. He went on to say that it is "NATO's responsibility is to protect territories of NATO allied nations.

  • Margaret Brennan

    Principally assigned to the State Department, Margaret Brennan also serves as a CBS News general assignment correspondent based in Washington, D.C.