Obama official: No NATO planning underway for Syria

Obama official: No NATO planning underway for Syria

There is no formal planning going on inside NATO to prepare for defending Turkey from the violence spilling over from Syria, even though Turkey is considering whether to formally invoke NATO’s chapters on collective defense, a top Obama administration official said Monday.

"Our Supreme Allied Commander [Adm. James Stavridis] can do a certain amount of planning… but there has been no formal tasking and there has been no formal request by the Turks for consultations in an Article 4 or Article 5 scenario," said Liz Sherwood-Randall, the National Security Council’s senior director for Europe, in remarks Monday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davotoglu briefed his foreign minister and defense minister counterparts on Syria at a high level meeting in Brussels this month, and reports said that Davotoglu discussed at length a cross border attack by Syrian forces on a refugee camp inside Turkey that killed two. Davotoglu is also reported to have said the Syrian regime has "abused a chance offered by the Annan plan."

The Obama administration also believes that the Annan plan "is failing," is currently searching for a "plan B" in Syria, and is preparing military related options in case diplomacy breaks down. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned that NATO might have to get involved earlier this month, during a ministerial meeting of the "Friends of Syria" group in Paris.

"Turkey already has discussed with NATO, during our ministerial meetings over the last two days, the burden of Syrian refugees on Turkey, the outrageous shelling across the border from Syria into Turkey a week ago, and that Turkey is considering formally invoking Article 4 of the North Atlantic Treaty," Clinton said.

Sherwood-Randall was speaking to preview the upcoming May NATO Summit in Chicago, which she said would focus on three dimensions: NATO’s mission in Afghanistan, NATO’s defensive capabilities, and NATO’s efforts to "increase and incentivize the contributions of NATO’s partners."

On Afghanistan, she said NATO "will shape the next phase of the transition" to Afghan control ahead of the full handover to the Afghan government in 2014.

"Setting forth the next phase of the transition in Chicago is an important step that will ensure we complete our work on time," she said. "In order to ensure a responsible transition of security, we need to development milestones along the way, and it’s our intention to do that in Chicago."

She did not say whether those milestones would be the same milestones that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced accidentally by reading internal talking points to reporters on the plane to Brussels in February, which amount to the goal of handing over the lead combat control to Afghan forces in 2013 while maintaining combat participation by allied forces.

Sherwood-Randall said that there will be no NATO-Russia Council meeting in Chicago as there was in Lisbon in 2010 and she said that was because of the timing of the event, which comes only days after Vladimir Putin returns to the presidency.

She also said that the United States would have to shoulder the burden of defense spending in NATO for a long time to come and that European countries were not expected to increase their spending on defense until their economic troubles subside.

"We can anticipate growth in European defense spending when Europe has recovered from its economic crisis and obviously there is a lot of work to be done on that front," she said. "We are so interdependent economically that it effects our growth as well. That said, we have got to find a way to maintain our alliance capabilities in this time of fiscal constraint and that’s what we intend to do."