Turkey and the United States have started talks to form a joint working group to discuss sanctions that Washington imposed on its NATO ally over its purchase of an advanced Russian air defence system, according to Turkey’s foreign minister.
In a year-end news conference assessing Turkish foreign policy, Mevlut Cavusoglu also told journalists on Wednesday that Turkey wants “healthier” relations with the US under President-elect Joe Biden’s administration.
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Ties between the two allies took a turn for the worse when in April 2017, Turkey signed a contract with Russia to acquire the state-of-art missile shield after its protracted efforts to buy an air defence system from the US proved futile.
US officials have voiced opposition to the contract, claiming it would be incompatible with NATO systems and would expose F-35 jets to possible Russian subterfuge. Washington had previously kicked Ankara out of its F-35 stealth jet programme, saying their use alongside the Russian technology would jeopardise the safety of the fighter jets.
Turkey, however, stressed that the S-400 would not be integrated into NATO systems, and poses no threat to the alliance or its armaments.
But that did not stop the US from announcing sanctions earlier this month to penalise Turkey, under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) which aims to push back on Russian influence. It was the first time that CAATSA had been used to penalise a US ally.
The sanctions target Turkey’s Defence Industry Directorate (SSB), its chief Ismail Demir and three other senior officials. They also include a ban on most export licenses, loans and credits to the agency.
Cavusoglu said Turkey had itself proposed a joint working group on the sanctions.
“Now the proposal came from the US. As we naturally always favour dialogue, we said yes, and negotiations began at the level of experts,” Cavusoglu said during the meeting.
He also said imposing sanctions is a misstep both politically and legally. “It is an attack on our sovereign rights,” he stressed.
Ties between the allies have been plagued by numerous other disputes, including the jailing of American citizens and local consular staff, US support for Syrian Kurdish fighters considered “terrorists” by Turkey and the continued US residence of a Muslim leader accused of masterminding the 2016 coup attempt in Turkey.
“In 2020, our ties with the United States were overshadowed by existing problems,” Cavusoglu said. “In 2021, we are prepared to lead our relations with the new administration in a healthier manner and we are prepared to take steps to overcome existing problems.”
Earlier this month, Cavusoglu had said Turkey was considering possible steps to reciprocate against the sanctions.