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How Germany And Europe Are Responding To Turkey's Syria Incursion


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Noel King. Good morning. President Trump yesterday defended his decision to pull U.S. troops out of northern Syria by arguing that this country should not be involved in, quote, "endless wars." Trump also invited Russia to fill the space that was left when the U.S. withdrew.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: So if Russia wants to get involved with the - with Syria, that's really up to them. They have a problem with Turkey. They have a problem at a border. It's not our border. We shouldn't be losing lives over it.

KING: Many of our European allies have criticized that decision to leave Syria. Germany is one of them. Norbert Rottgen is chairman of the German Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee. He's in the studio with me. Good morning.

NORBERT ROTTGEN: Good morning.

KING: You are not pleased by this. You've said President Trump effectively greenlighted Turkey's invasion of Syria. Can Europe do anything about this?

ROTTGEN: Very, very unfortunately, I think that, of course, this is also a European disaster...

KING: Yeah.

ROTTGEN: ...Because it is a consequence of European inaction. But now, as things stand, there was a unique position of the United States to resist Erdogan's invasion. And with a withdrawal, they are invading. And now the Russians are coming in, and they are waging war as well. So Europe, as unfortunate as it is, can do very, very little.

KING: We talked to Admiral John Stavridis earlier this week. He's a former NATO commander, as you know. And he made an interesting point when asked, what could NATO do? Let me play you what he said.


KING: What can NATO do? What kind of pressure can they apply?

JOHN STAVRIDIS: Because of the mass and scale, for example, of the NATO economies - we tend to forget this. We think of NATO as a purely military organization.

KING: Yeah.

STAVRIDIS: But these are 29 nations that represent 53% of the world's GDP. They are an enormous economic component, a big, big sanction-generating machine that can be brought to bear.

KING: What about economic leverage? Does Europe have it?

ROTTGEN: What we have to understand - for President Erdogan, this is an existential power question. It's all about his power. It is stirring, fueling nationalism. So he is - there's only the military resistance, which were - which was constituted by the United States forces, which can avoid him to invade.

So, of course, Turkey is economically dependent on the West, on the Europeans. And perhaps, in the course of time, we have to consider to impose sanctions. At the moment, I am reluctant because we have to see it would mean the suffering of the people. It would, perhaps, nurture the narrative - the victim narrative of Erdogan, who is always telling, I'm so important for you as a strong man because everybody's against us. So perhaps we will play into the cards of Erdogan, so I am reluctant on that.

KING: Can you - can Germany understand President Trump's desire to end U.S. military engagement in this region?

ROTTGEN: Of course we can understand the demand to withdraw, to not get permanently involved. However, we have to see the United States have remained the unique, indispensable international leading power. And this comes along with a responsibility, and we see it at that. If the U.S. withdraws, we have - we had a kind of peace - a truce, at least - and now we have war. We have suffering. We have refugees. We have geopolitical upsets there. So the United States is indispensable and at the end (ph). So I can't understand him.

KING: OK. Turkey is a NATO ally, therefore protected by Article 5 of the NATO charter, which commits these nations to protect each other. If Syria launches attacks on Turkey, will Germany come to Turkey's defense?

ROTTGEN: Definitely not.


ROTTGEN: Because how unfortunate it is to say the aggressor, in this case, is the NATO partner Turkey. There is no justification under international law. It's an aggression on the territory of a foreign country which is launched and conducted by a NATO partner. So you're - you talked about the economic sanctions. I think the Western countries, including NATO, should step up in their language and not only politically condemn but in the strongest terms say, this is a violation of the charter of the United Nations. This is very close to a criminal act.

KING: It would be quite serious, though - wouldn't it? - to say, we're throwing Article 5 out the window. We're just not coming to their defense - to Turkey's defense.

ROTTGEN: Yes, but we are not throwing Article 5 out of the window. But unfortunately, the fact is that in this case, Turkey, the NATO member, is the aggressor, is the offender, and the Kurds are defending against the Turkish attack. So there is no case for Turkey to trigger Article 5. Unfortunately, it's just the other way around.

KING: Norbert Rottgen is chairman of the German Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee. Sir, thank you so much for being with us.

ROTTGEN: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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