Trump hails ‘very productive’ meeting, but tells Erdogan purchase of Russia’s S-400 system poses ‘serious challenges’.
Turkey will not turn back on the controversial Russian S-400 missile defence system it procured this year despite protests from its NATO ally the United States, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday.
Erdogan said he told US President Donald Trump the Russian system must be part of the Turkish military during talks in Washington, DC.
Last week, Erdogan and Trump met at the White House to overcome mounting differences ranging from the S-400s to Syria policy. During the talks, Trump urged Erdogan to drop the S-400 systems in lieu of US Patriot missile systems.
“We agreed to seek solutions to the S-400 issue. I explained to Trump once again how we came to the point of buying S-400s,” Erdogan told party members in parliament.
“I told him that we could not give up on the S-400s and that Turkey will not turn back.”
Erdogan also reiterated a warning that Turkey will seek fighter jets elsewhere if Washington continued to block its planned purchases of American-made F-35s.
“If the current uncompromising stance on the F-35s persists, we told him [Trump] that Turkey would seek alternatives to meet its medium-term needs,” Erdogan said.
Ankara and Washington have been at loggerheads over Turkey’s purchase of the S-400s, which Washington says are not compatible with NATO defences and pose a threat to its F-35 stealth fighters.
The US maintains the system could be used by Russia to covertly obtain classified details on the F35s. Turkey, however, counters the S-400 would not be integrated into NATO systems and would not pose a threat to the alliance.
The US suspended Turkey from the jet programme, where it was a buyer and a manufacturer, and warned of possible sanctions over the deal.
Tensions between the NATO allies were further strained last month when Turkey launched an incursion against the Kurdish YPG militia in northeast Syria. Ankara views the US-backed YPG as a “terrorist group” and has been infuriated by American support.
Turkey says the Syrian YPG is linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that has waged a decades-long armed uprising inside Turkey, leaving tens of thousands of people dead.
While Ankara has said the talks with Washington were fruitful, Erdogan’s remarks since then about keeping the S-400s have angered some US politicians.
“I will work with my colleagues to ensure there is zero chance that F-35s will leave the United States for Turkey while Erdogan possesses the S-400 missile system,” Senator Jim Risch, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said late last week.
“In addition, if he is firm in his position on keeping the S-400s, I intend to move forward with a Turkey sanctions bill. It is his choice and he knows the consequences,” said Risch.
But Erdogan appeared to strike a conciliatory tone on Tuesday, saying lingering differences between the allies can be resolved.
“The areas of concern with the United States are comprised of small things,” he said.
“While we were unable to solve many of the issues between us during our talks, we showed the entire world that we are not letting these problems take our relations hostage.”
Erdogan also dismissed accusations that Turkey was hostile towards the Kurds.
“We are not against our Kurdish brothers, we are against the PKK, PYD and YPG, which are terror groups,” he said.