By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
ANKARA, Turkey, Sept. 16, 2012 – Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey arrived here today for talks with Turkish military leaders on the situation with neighboring Syria and the humanitarian crisis caused by the Syrian civil war.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff will meet with Turkish Army Gen. Necdet Ozel, the chief of the General Staff. He will also have an office call with National Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz and foreign ministry officials.
"I’m here to learn, but I’m also here to share what we think of this [Syrian situation] regionally," Dempsey said. "They are facing an immediate threat to their southern border. As a partner — bilaterally and also in NATO — we’re attuned to it."
The war in Syria has claimed tens of thousands killed and created at least 200,000 official refugees and perhaps thousands more, according to the United Nations High Commission on Refugees. Turkey has established refugee camps along its border with Syria in the province of Hatay, and as fighting continues in the historic city of Aleppo, more and more Syrians are seeking sanctuary in Turkey.
The chairman wants to broaden the conversation about Syria to gain Turkish insights on what the war in Syria may mean to the entire region.
Turkey is a key U.S. ally and partner, and Dempsey said he wants to learn how the Turks regard the fighting in Syria. "This is one of those times when we talk about our shared interests," he said, "and Turkey’s interests in Syria right now are the same as ours."
Dempsey said the situation in Syria presents a clear humanitarian crisis. "There is a clear risk of chemical and biological weapon proliferation or lack of control, and then there is the risk of [Syrian] ballistic missiles," he said.
There are no indications now that Syria will use chemical or biological weapons or fire the missiles against Turkey, "but I think it is prudent to have that conversation with Turkey before there is intelligence that it might happen," the chairman said.
"The threats are to the entire region. Let’s find a way to collaborate more broadly on this," Dempsey said.
Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey
State Department Fact Sheet: Turkey
Special: Travels With Dempsey