Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar has called on the upcoming Biden administration in the United States to engage in a dialogue with Ankara and to review a decision to sanction the country over its purchase of an advanced Russian air missile defence system.
“We are saying let’s not break things up in this way. Let’s sit down and talk and find a solution,” Akar said on Wednesday.
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That request comes even though Washington has made clear that there can be no waiver of the sanctions until Ankara disposes of the Russian technology.
Speaking to reporters late on Wednesday, Akar would not be drawn into a question on whether Turkey would consider disposing of the Russian S-400 system amid US pressure. But he said he was hopeful that a solution can be found “through common sense before coming to that point”.
“It is a very problematic situation to turn back from the point we have come to. We invite [the US] to distance themselves from threatening language such as sanctions,” Akar told journalists in Ankara.
“We want the solution of problems through dialogue. If the US side wants a solution, a solution could be found with work on the technical level,” he said.
Second consignment of the S-400s?
Akar also said talks with Russia on acquiring a second consignment of the S-400 were continuing.
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-the-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.
In mid-December, the US sanctioned four Turkish officials under a law known as CAATSA, which is aimed at pushing back on Russian influence. The sanctions, which also included a ban on export licences to Turkey’s Presidency of Defense Industries, were the first time the law was used to punish a NATO ally.
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.
US officials have ruled out the possibility of discussions with Turkey over the S-400’s risks to the F-35s. They have also said the sanctions cannot be lifted as long as the Russian air defence system remains on Turkish soil.
Ankara has expressed willingness to have a “healthier” relations with the US under President-elect Joe Biden’s administration. Last month, the two countries started talks to form a joint working group to discuss the sanctions.
The Turkish defence minister said Turkey was left with no choice but to acquire the Russian air defence system after no NATO ally offered it favourable terms. The Turkish government has also pointed to what it considers a double standard, as NATO member Greece uses Russian-made missiles.
Asked whether Turkey was considering buying Russian-made jets following its removal from the US fighter plane programme, Akar said Turkey wanted to “return” to the F-35 programme and develop its own national fighter jet programme and modernise its fleet of F-16 planes.
“We are part of NATO, we are together with the European Union and the United States. Therefore, we want to be with Europe, with the United States and NATO for our defence and security,” he said.