REYHANLI, Turkey (Reuters) - The United States is willing to give NATO ally Turkey ammunition alongside humanitarian assistance in northwestern Syria where Ankara is in a deepening standoff with Russia, the U.S. special representative for the region said on Tuesday.
Addressing reporters in Turkey’s border province of Hatay, James Jeffrey said the United States will ensure that U.S.-made equipment is ready for the Turkish military.
The U.S. ambassador to Turkey, David Satterfield, said at the same briefing that Washington is examining a request for air defences.
The supportive words come as fighting intensified across the border in Syria’s Idlib region where Turkey and allied rebels are battling Russia-backed Syrian government forces. Nearly a million people have been displaced there in recent months.
“We’re willing to provide - for example the President (Trump) mentioned this - ammunition,” Jeffrey said, adding Turkish counterparts had also “very much stressed” the need for humanitarian assistance.
“Turkey is a NATO ally. We have a very, very big foreign military sales programme, much of the Turkish military uses American equipment,” he said. “We will make sure that that equipment is ready. As a NATO partner we share information intelligence...and we are going to ensure that they have what they need there.”
On Tuesday in Idlib, Turkey shot down a Syrian government warplane and edged close to direct conflict with Russia in the battle over the last swathe of Syria still held by rebels after that country’s nine-year-old war.
Ankara has asked for the use of U.S. Patriot surface-to-air defences, even though it opted to buy the Russian-made S-400 alternatives last year in a move that enraged Washington and teed up U.S. sanctions.
Satterfield said alongside Jeffrey that Washington is considering the request in the context of the S-400 purchase, without elaborating.
The United States said separately on Tuesday it would send $108 million in humanitarian aid to people in Syria.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan is scheduled to meet Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Thursday after weeks of talks between their delegations have so far failed to agree a ceasefire.
Jeffrey said the United States is “in close consultation with the Turks (and) we are seeing what kind of diplomatic positions they will be taking when President Erdogan goes to Moscow to see President Putin.”
He called Russian policy in Idlib “totally evil”, saying its main focus is “attacking and terrorizing civilians.”
Russia on Tuesday rejected claims about refugee flows and a humanitarian crisis in the region, despite evidence on the ground and data provided by the United Nations.
Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Writing by Jonathan Spicer, Editing by William Maclean