U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned Syria on Sunday for the “brazen and unacceptable” shooting down of a Turkish fighter jet and vowed to work with Ankara on a suitable response.
“It is yet another reflection of the Syrian authorities’ callous disregard for international norms, human life, and peace and security,” Clinton said in a written statement.
Clinton said she spoke with Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu on Saturday to convey “grave concern” about the downing of a Turkish F-4 fighter jet by Syrian forces.
“I also told him that our thoughts and prayers are with the missing pilots and their loved ones,” Clinton said.
“The foreign minister briefed me on the specifics of the incident, including that the Syrian military shot its plane down without warning,” she said.
“The United States condemns this brazen and unacceptable act in the strongest possible terms.”
President Bashar al-Assad’s government said it downed the F-4 Phantom on Friday after the Turkish jet violated Syrian airspace.
NATO has said it will discuss Turkey’s accusations, while Britain, another member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, has offered support for “robust” international action.
Clinton reaffirmed U.S. support for the Turkish government and American solidarity with the Turkish people.
“We will maintain close contact with Turkish officials as they continue to investigate the incident and determine Turkey’s response, including in the Security Council,” she said. “We will work with Turkey and other partners to hold the Assad regime accountable.”
Turkey-Syria relations have already been strained by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s outspoken condemnation of the Assad’s regime’s bloody crackdown, which rights activists say has killed more than 15,000 people since March 2011.
“Turkey has been a leader in the international community’s effort to address the Syrian regime’s violence against its own people,” said Clinton.
“We will continue our close cooperation with Turkey as part of our broader efforts to promote a democratic transition in Syria,” she said.
“This work is urgent, and we will be consulting in New York with the Security Council, in Brussels with NATO and the EU, and in Geneva with special envoy Kofi Annan on next steps.”
Amid growing acrimony between the once-friendly neighbors, Syria said its forces had shot dead “terrorists” infiltrating its territory from Turkey, which along with Western and Arab nations has backed the cause of Syrians fighting Assad.
Search for pilots continues
Davutoglu said the search for two missing pilots was still under way, in coordination with the Syrian authorities. He denied it was a “joint” operation.
He said the RF-4 Phantom jet had been clearly marked as Turkish and dismissed Syria’s assertion it had not identified the aircraft before opening fire.
Davutoglu said the jet was unarmed and had been on a solo mission to test domestic radar systems, but acknowledged it had briefly crossed Syrian airspace 15 minutes before it was hit.
“Our plane was shot at a distance of 13 sea miles from Syria’s border in international airspace,” Davutoglu said.
“According to the radar images, our plane lost contact with headquarters after it was hit and because the pilot lost control, it crashed into Syrian waters after making abnormal movements,” he said. “Throughout this entire period no warning was made to our plane.”