Turkey is “taking into account” NATO concerns over its Russian missile deal, the country’s foreign minister said in more conciliatory remarks over a purchase stoking tensions between Washington and Ankara.
The two NATO allies have argued for months over Turkey‘s order for the advanced S-400 missile defence batteries, which Washington says are incompatible with the Western alliance’s defence network and would pose a threat to US F-35 stealth fighter jets which Turkey also plans to buy.
“We are taking into account NATO’s concerns. It is not right to say Turkey is not considering them,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told a press conference in Ankara on Friday.
His remarks followed a visit by Turkey’s defence minister to Washington and a meeting between US President Donald Trump and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan‘s son-in-law at the White House, where they discussed the S-400 deal, local media reported.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and several prominent US senators have warned Turkey that it would face penalties for buying the S-400s under legislation which calls for sanctions against countries procuring military equipment from Russia.
Turkey says as a NATO member it poses no threat to the US and the sanctions should not apply.
Resolving the dispute could allow the two governments to turn the corner on years of tense relations. The stakes are higher for Turkey, which is mired in recession after a separate US diplomatic dispute last year sparked a currency crisis that has echoed in recent weeks as ties have again frayed.
Two months before the first batch of S-400s could arrive in Turkey, a team of senior Turkish ministers visited Washington this week for talks aimed at easing the crisis, culminating in an unexpected Oval Office meeting with the president.
Few details of the White House meeting have emerged, but Turkish media quoted Finance Minister Berat Albayrak, son-in-law of President Tayyip Erdogan, as saying Trump had a “positive understanding … regarding Turkey’s needs for the S-400s”.
Even minor US sanctions could prompt another sharp sell-off in the Turkish lira that can deepen the recession in the Middle East’s largest economy. After shedding 30 percent of its value last year, the currency is down another 10 percent and markets remain on edge.
Buying military equipment from Russia leaves Turkey liable to US retribution under a 2017 law known as the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, or CAATSA.
To waive any CAATSA sanctions imposed by Congress, Trump by law would have to show that the S-400 purchase was not a “significant transaction”, and that it would not endanger the integrity of NATO or adversely affect US military operations.
He would also need to show in a letter to congressional committees that the deal would not lead to a “significant negative impact” on US-Turkish cooperation and that Turkey is taking, or will take, steps over a specific period to reduce its Russian-made defence equipment and weapons.
Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said he had heard Trump pledge in a phone call with the Turkish president two months ago that he would work to find a resolution to the problem. Other officials have also portrayed the US president as sympathetic.
The talks were “more positive than expected” and the Americans expressed “a softer tone” than they take in public, a second senior Turkish official told Reuters.
Trump has not weighed in on Turkey in recent weeks. Even if Turkey did have his support, however, that common ground may prove elusive.
Relations between the two countries have been strained over several disputes, including military strategy in the Syrian conflict, Iran sanctions, and Turkey’s requests for Washington to extradite a US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara blames for a failed 2016 military coup.