Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned on Monday that the great prize of seizing ISIS-held territory was threatened by Turkey’s offensive in northern Syria.
Addressing a meeting of Nato parliamentarians in London, Mr Stoltenberg demanded all the 29 allies “step-up” to back a solution to the issue of ISIS foreign fighters that have been held in Syrian Defence Forces camps since the group was crushed in its stronghold.
“We must not put in jeopardy the gains we have made against our common enemy,” Mr Stoltenberg said, adding that while the global coalition had defeated ISIS, the group had not gone away and could stage a resurgence.
While balancing criticism from the representatives of many Nato countries, Mr Stoltenberg recalled on his visit to Turkey last week that he had cautioned against the backlash.
“Turkey is important for Nato,” he said. “We risk undermining the unity we need in the fight against [ISIS].”
The meeting also heard from the British defence secretary, Ben Wallace, who was challenged over his tone towards Turkey.
“It is absolutely clear that Turkey has had, and still does have, a threat emanating towards it from groups such as the PKK, a terrorist organisation in this country as well, and that Turkey needs to do what it sometimes has to do to defend itself,” Mr Wallace said.
“However, it is our view that what has happened at present needs to be taken in a measured way in order for that security to take place for Turkey, but in a way that upholds the value of international law and humanitarian rights.”
Britain signed up to an EU statement on the offensive last week but has not joined France and other countries in adopting an export ban on weaponry to Turkey.
“This is a situation we did not want to develop in this way. But it is a situation that has happened and we are trying to make sure that human rights are upheld in that process,” he said.
Karl Lamers, a German delegate was applauded when he cast doubt on the legality of the Turkish military action.
“Do you really think that this is covered by the Charter of the United Nations as an act of self-defence,” he asked Mr Wallace. “If you are convinced that Turkey has a legitimate reason for invading Syria, what would be your answer to the Turks if they were to ask you, in reference to Article five that Nato should support them, are you willing to do so?”
Britain was reported to have held out against an EU statement that “condemned” Turkey on Monday.
European governments have sought to pile pressure on President Recep Tayyip Erdogan over the incursion. “We don’t have magic powers but what we can do is put all pressure possible to stop this action,” Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell said.
Spain backs a Europe-wide arms embargo.
Germany’s Heiko Maas said the offensive jeopardised the drive for a political solution to Syria’s civil war
“It is important to remain in dialogue with Turkey in order to be able to influence it,” he said. “If that is not successful, we will have to reserve the right to take further measures.”
The EU last week issued a statement in the name of all 28 member states to condemn the offensive, warning it risked unleashing a humanitarian disaster and could undermine the fight against the Islamic State group.