NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Monday defended his stance on Turkey’s attack on Kurdish militants in northeastern Syria as he came under pressure from some members of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly to be tougher with Ankara, according to a report by Reuters.
Splits in the military alliance have emerged after NATO member Turkey began its offensive in Syria last week, with the governments of EU countries that are also NATO members suspending weapon sales to Turkey.
Appearing in London at a plenary session of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, a body made up of delegates from the legislatures of member states, Stoltenberg said he had expressed deep concerns to Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan when he saw him in Istanbul on Friday.
Stoltenberg said he had told Erdogan and his foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, that Turkey’s military operations in northern Syria risked further destabilising the region, escalating tensions and causing more human suffering.
“I expect Turkey to act with restraint and in coordination with other allies so that we can preserve the gains we have made against our common enemy, Daesh,” he said, adding that one imminent concern was that captive fighters from the militant group should not be allowed to escape.
But during a question-and-answer session after his speech, Stoltenberg faced robust remarks from several delegates, particularly those from France and Belgium, both countries where deadly attacks linked to Daesh have taken place.
Christian Cambon, a member of the French Senate, said the situation was unacceptable and suggested that Stoltenberg was being too soft on Turkey.
“We were surprised by the tone of your statement in Istanbul, I have to tell you. Was that in consultation with our great American ally?” Cambon asked, to applause from some of the other delegates.
He was referring to President Donald Trump’s abrupt decision to pull US troops out of northeastern Syria, which was the catalyst for the Turkish offensive. Ankara views the YPG Kurdish militia in northern Syria as terrorists linked to a Kurdish insurgency being waged inside Turkey.