Dutch agree to send Patriot missile-system to Turkey
Fri Feb 7,12:35 PM ET
By ANTHONY DEUTSCH, Associated Press Writer
AMSTERDAM, Netherlands - The Dutch government agreed to a Turkish request to supply Patriot missile defense systems to protect the country in the event of a war in Iraq, the Defense Minister said Friday. Meanwhile, preparations began for possible reprisal attacks in the Netherlands in the event of a war.
"The Cabinet has decided to grant the Turkish request," said ministry spokeswoman Charlotte Slagmolen. It was unclear when the missile systems would be deployed or how many Patriot missiles would be loaned, she said.
The Patriot system, manufactured by Lexington, Massachusetts-based Raytheon, fires rockets at missiles to destroy them in midair. The Dutch supplied the Patriot systems to Turkey during the 1991 Gulf War (news - web sites).
The Dutch Air Force has four Patriot systems carrying 160 missiles, which can travel up to 5,000 kilometers (3,125 miles) per hour to a distance of 60 kilometers (38 miles).
The systems will be supplied under a bilateral agreement, not through a NATO (news - web sites) package being pushed by the United States, according to an Air Force official.
The announcement came as NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson gave France, Germany and Belgium until Monday to decide whether to stop blocking a U.S. request for other military alliance to protect Turkey, including AWACS surveillance planes based in Germany, and military units specialized in responding to chemical, biological or nuclear attacks.
Although the Dutch public is generally opposed to participation in a U.S.-led war in Iraq, caretaker Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende has said the Netherlands will be a "reliable partner" if force becomes necessary to disarm Iraqi President Saddam Hussein (news - web sites).
The Dutch have offered Washington assistance in non-combat operations and approved American use of their air space, military bases and harbors if it goes to war. While the Dutch would prefer a second U.N. resolution approving the use of force to disarm Saddam Hussein, they have not ruled out joining a coalition led-by the U.S.
Seeming to play down the threat of war Friday, Balkenende told journalists in The Hague (news - web sites) after his weekly Cabinet meeting that the decision to assist Turkey had nothing to do with military planning for war, but said it was merely "the granting of an ally's request for security" assistance.
At the same time, the Cabinet discussed preparations for reprisal attacks here if war breaks out in Iraq, including the possibility of an attack with biological weapons, according to a government spokesman who asked not to be named.
"The past has taught us that terrorists can strike anywhere, anytime," he said. "It can be expected of the Dutch government to take into consideration all potential risks," he said.
The country was "increasing alertness just in case," he said, because of mounting international tension. Public health services were reviewing emergency plans and the mass production of vaccine for measles had begun, he said.
"It is possible that some group could target the Netherlands," he said. "This is about taking precautions and increasing public awareness," the official said
Authorities were also assessing the impact of a strike on the transportation system, energy sources and the national budget. Security forces were put on high alert and potential targets were evaluated to ensure that they could be protected "on short notice," the official said.