NATO has to support its “strategically valuable” ally Turkey in the region amid ongoing regional challenges, aU.S. congressman said Tuesday.

“Regardless of Russia’s actions, NATO must rededicate itself to its organizing principles in order to fortify Turkey internally and externally,” Democratic congressman Gerry Connolly said during a panel at theWashington-based Atlantic Council think tank. “We have no other choice.”

Last year, Turkey downed a Russian fighter jet after it violated Turkish airspace.

Turkey has been a NATO member since 1952 and according to the alliance’s policy, all members are bound to protect each other.

But NATO has been criticized for leaving Turkey on its own amid Ankara’s worsening relations with Russiafollowing the downing of the Russian jet.

“Targeting a NATO ally would have consequences,” Connolly said, adding that Turkey had to be able to engage Russia from a position of strength “as a democratic NATO ally.

“U.S. and NATO allies, including Turkey, have a responsibility to shape Russia’s behavior in the region as best we can.”

Additionally, the congressman said it would be damaging to long-term NATO interests if Russia was allowed to “dictate” the terms of any possible de-escalation between Turkey and itself.

The Director of the Eurasia Center at the Atlantic Council, John Herbst, said Russian President Vladimir Putin was astonished when Turkey shut down the Russian jet.

This was “the strongest step that anyone in the West has taken against his aggression” unlike Russia’s unapproved actions while annexing Ukraine or backing Syrian President Bashar Assad, according toHerbst.

The Director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute, Soner Cagaptay, said shooting down the jet reminded NATO of its significance in the Middle East.

Cagaptay described the incident as part of a “broader pattern of Russian violation of many other allied nations’ airspace” in the region.

He added that it also reminded Turkey that it needed NATO while facing the challenges in the region.

Meanwhile, former U.S. Ambassador to Turkey James Jeffrey said Ankara was “at the very core” for NATOand that the organization needed to stand by its ally.

Source: AA

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