Nato says it will consider “without delay” Turkey’s request to deploy Patriot anti-missile systems to protect its border with the unrest-torn Syria.
The comments were made by the military bloc’s chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen.
Germany’s foreign minister has already said the request by Turkey, a Nato member, should be approved.
On several occasions last month, Turkey’s army returned fire across the border into Syria after Syrian mortar shells landed inside its territory.
The exchange of fire followed the deaths of five Turkish civilians in Syrian shelling.
‘Exposed to attacks‘
A decision by Nato to deploy Patriot missile batteries to Turkey would be a powerful signal of alliance solidarity and a clear warning to the Syrian government to make sure the fighting does not spill over onto Turkish soil.
The request for Patriot – a sophisticated anti-aircraft system with a capability to shoot down some ballistic missiles as well – is in a sense a curious one.
Stray artillery and mortar fire from Syria has landed in Turkey on several occasions. Syrian aircraft have frequently bombed targets near the border, sometimes prompting the Turks to scramble aircraft to protect their airspace.
Patriot missiles have the range to reach well into Syrian airspace but the Nato secretary general has made it clear that what is being considered is a “defensive deployment” only. In other words, this is not to be seen as the first stage in the establishment of a no-fly zone over Syria.
On Wednesday, Mr Rasmussen said he had received a letter from Turkey – a Nato member – to deploy Patriot missiles.
He said such a move would “augment Turkey’s air defence capabilities” and “contribute to the de-escalation of the crisis along Nato’s south-eastern border”.
Patriot batteries use radar to locate incoming missiles. Surface-to-air missiles are then launched from giant containers and are guided onto their targets.
The system has been extensively used by the US and allied troops since it was first deployed in 1986. It has previously been deployed in Turkey during the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said he had instructed the country’s ambassador to Nato to approve Ankara’s request for a further deployment of the system.
“It would be a serious mistake if we were to refuse defensive support to a Nato member country in a moment when this member country feels that it is exposed to attacks from outside,” Mr Westerwelle said.
Until last year, Turkey and Syria were close allies, but Ankara is now backing the Syrian opposition and calls for the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad.
While Turkey may not be at war with Syria, correspondents say it is now increasingly involved in its neighbour’s conflict.
Turkey has a 900km (560 miles) border with Syria.