Turkey is becoming increasingly concerned about security along its border with Syria, in an area of the Southeast where Ankara is also fighting an emboldened wave of terrorist attacks waged by the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). Turkish officials earlier said it is talking to its NATO allies about the possible deployment of Patriot surface-to-air missiles to guard against a spillover of Syria's conflict.
"They have asked that we work with them to try to see what we can do to give them some missile defense capability. And we are working with them. And our hope is that we can help provide that kind of assistance," Panetta said during an interview with Voice of America (VOA) on Thursday.
Turkish President Abdullah Gul recently warned against Syria's use of chemical weapons against Turkey and suggested that NATO's Patriot missiles could counter the threat. In an interview with the Financial Times, Gül said it is no secret that Syria has chemical weapons and that Damascus has old Soviet delivery systems to deploy them. "So in case there is in some eventuality some sort of madness in this respect and some action is taken, contingency planning has to be put in place and this is something NATO is doing," he said. Gül's remarks came on the same day that the leader of NATO said the alliance will defend its only Muslim member, Turkey, and has "all plans in place" to do so.
Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said last week that Turkey was yet to make a formal request to NATO for deployment of a Patriot missile system along the Syrian border, but added that consultations are underway with the defense organization over possible security measures to be taken to in a bid to counter any threat stemming from the festering Syrian conflict.