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Obama: Turkey Has Right to Defend Its Territory, Airspace
Last updated on: November 24, 2015 1:34 PM
President Barack Obama said the downing of a Russian fighter jet along the Syrian-Turkish border Tuesday is evidence of an «ongoing problem» with Russia’s military operations in Syria, and that Turkey had a «right to defend its territory and its airspace.»
Speaking during a joint news conference with French President Francois Hollande, Obama said information about Turkey’s downing of the Russian Su-24 was still being collected, but noted that Russian military aircraft are targeting moderate Syrian opposition groups very close to Turkey’s borders.
He urged the two sides to «take measures to discourage any kind of escalation» and said the incident showed a need to move quickly toward a diplomatic resolution of the Syrian conflict.
Earlier, Russian President Vladimir Putin accused Turkey of «stabbing» Russia «in the back» and supporting terrorism after Turkish F-16s shot down the Russian jet.
This frame grab from video by Haberturk TV, shows a Russian warplane on fire before crashing on a hill as seen from Hatay province, Turkey, Nov. 24, 2015.
Ankara said the plane was shot down after it violated Turkish airspace and ignored 10 warnings in the span of five minutes to leave.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country made its «best efforts» to avoid such an incident, but that «everyone should respect the right of Turkey to defend its borders.»
Ankara has strongly criticized recent airstrikes by Russian forces against Syrian Turkmen, which Turkey considers ethnic kin.
A U.S. military spokesman confirmed that Turkish pilots issued repeated warnings to the Russian plane and didn’t get a response. However, the spokesman said it was not immediately clear on which side of the border the Russian jet was flying.
Moscow insists the jet never left Syrian airspace.
Putin acknowledged the Russian jet was shot down by a Turkish F-16, after Russian officials had earlier said «firing from the ground» was responsible for downing the plane. But he said the fighter was over Syrian territory 1 kilometer away from the Turkish border when it was hit, and that it never threatened Turkey.
This frame grab from video by Haberturk TV shows two parachutes after a Russian warplane crashed on a hill as seen from Hatay province, Turkey, Nov. 24, 2015.
«This event goes beyond the framework of the regular fight against terrorism,» Putin said at a meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah II in the southern Russian city of Sochi.
«Of course, our servicemen are waging a heroic fight against terror — not sparing themselves, sacrificing their own lives. But today’s loss is connected to a stab in the back by accomplices of the terrorists. There is no other way to characterize what happened today,» he said.
Putin said Russia had long noted «a large amount of oil and oil products» entering Turkey from Islamic State-held territory in Syria, providing the terrorist group with a «large money supply.»
He added, «Today’s tragic event will have serious consequences for Russian-Turkish relations.»
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he has canceled a planned visit to Turkey and said his ministry was recommending that Russians not travel to Turkey “for tourism or any other purposes.”
NATO is to hold an emergency meeting Tuesday to discuss the incident.
«At the request of Turkey, the North Atlantic Council will hold an extraordinary meeting at 17.00 (Brussels time) (1600 GMT). The aim of this extraordinary NAC meeting is for Turkey to inform Allies about the downing of a Russian airplane,» a NATO official said.
Video from the area showed what appeared to be two pilots parachuting down from the sky, and a Syrian rebel group later released its own video of what it said was one of the pilots, who it said was dead.
Russia said only that its pilots ejected and their status was unknown.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors violence in Syria, said the plane went down in the Turkmen Mountains in Latakia province. Pro-government forces have been fighting in that region and the Islamic State group is not known to be present there.
This frame grab from video by Haberturk TV, shows smoke from a Russian warplane after crashing on a hill as seen from Hatay province, Turkey, Nov. 24, 2015.
A U.S. defense official said Turkey informed the United States that its aircraft had shot down a Russian jet that violated its airspace. The official said U.S. forces were not involved.
Turkish officials have issued multiple warnings about aircraft violating its airspace during Syria’s 4½-year civil war. Its forces shot down a Syrian helicopter in 2013 and last month took down an unidentified drone that crossed into its airspace.
Turkey has also complained about at least two instances of Russian jets flying in its airspace.
NATO protested those incursions, and in October noted what it called the «extreme danger of irresponsible behavior.»
After the earlier Russian incursions into Turkey, the United States deployed six F-15 jets from Britain to Turkey’s Incirlik Air Base to help the NATO ally secure its skies.
Russia began its military campaign in Syria in late September. In October, it reached an agreement with the United States, which is leading a coalition of countries bombing militants in Syria, to keep a safe distance and communicate in order to prevent mid-air disasters.
VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb and National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin in Washington, Daniel Schearf in Moscow and Dorian Jones in Istanbul contributed to this report.