Obama: Turkey has right to defend its airspace

Barack Obama, Turkey, Russia, Syria
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President Obama on Tuesday affirmed Turkey’s right to defends itself after it shot down a Russian warplane that reportedly entered its airspace near Syria. 

“Turkey, like every country, has the right to defend its territory and its airspace,” Obama said during a press conference with French President François Hollande. 

{mosads}But Obama urged Turkey and Russia to hold talks to avoid a military escalation that could further destabilize Syria.   

“It is important right now to make sure the Russians and Turks are talking to each other to figure out what happened” and “discourage any kind of escalation,” the president said. 

Russia reacted angrily to the incident, with President Vladimir Putin calling it a “stab in the back” carried out by “accomplices of terrorists,” referring to Turkey. 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Tuesday also canceled a previously scheduled visit to Turkey.

Russia claimed the jet was brought down by artillery fire, Turkey said its F-16s fired on it after the Russian plane ignored 10 warnings in the span of five minutes to exit its airspace, according to The Associated Press.

Turkey informed other NATO allies that the Russian plane entered its airspace before it was shot down, prompting an emergency meeting of allies in Brussels, said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

Stoltenberg said after the meeting that the assessments received from several allies during the day “are consistent” with the information provided by Turkey that the Russian plane violated its airspace before it was shot down.

“We stand in solidarity with Turkey and support the territorial integrity of Turkey, our ally,” the NATO official said, adding a call for deescalation. 

A U.S. military spokesman confirmed that Turkish pilots had warned the Russian pilots 10 times, and that the Russians did not respond. 

“We were able to hear everything that was going on. Obviously, you know, these are on open channels. I’m sure there’s others who heard it all as well,” said Army Col. Steve Warren, spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve. 

Warren said the coalition was not involved in the incident, since the coalition is focused on ISIS, and the possible incursion would be between Turkey and Russia only. 

However, Warren said the “international protocols and standards and norms are very well established, very well known by all players.” 


“And absolutely … all nations should work within those international norms,” he said. “There’s no reason for aircraft to be flying where they shouldn’t, frankly.” 

The downing of the plane has complicated Hollande’s effort to urge the U.S. and Russia to cooperate in the fight against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). 

Obama has balked at coordinating strikes with Russia, due to its military intervention in support of Syrian President Bashar Assad, a Kremlin ally. 

The U.S. believes Russia’s support is escalating the Syrian civil war, which has given safe harbor to ISIS. 

“I do think that this points to an ongoing problem with the Russian operations,” Obama said. “The challenge has been Russia’s focus on propping up Assad rather than fighting ISIL,” he said, using an alternate acronym for the group. 

The president added that until Russia decides to stop targeting rebels fighting Assad, “it’s very difficult” to imagine working together against ISIS.  

Jesse Byrnes and Kristina Wong contributed. This story was updated at 2:23 p.m.

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