Turkish president says he told US counterpart to ‘not expect Turkey to take a different step’ on the issue.
President Joe Biden and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan agreed when they met in Brussels this week that Turkey would take a lead role in securing the Kabul airport as the United States withdraws troops from Afghanistan, a US official said.
But the two leaders were not able to resolve a longstanding dispute that has strained ties between Washington and Ankara about Turkey’s purchase of the Russian-made S-400 surface-to-air missile system, the official said.
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters on Thursday that Biden and Erdoğan, in their meeting on June 14 at the NATO summit had discussed the Afghanistan airport security issue.
Erdoğan had asked for US support to help secure the airport and Biden committed to providing that support, Sullivan said, the Reuters news agency reported.
“The clear commitment from the leaders was established that Turkey would play a lead role in securing Hamid Karzai International Airport and we are now working through how to execute to get to that,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan’s remarks offer the first details from the US side of the meeting between Biden and Erdoğan who told the US president Ankara will not change its stance on the Russian S-400 missile system.
Ankara’s purchase of Russian anti-aircraft weaponry has interfered with US plans to sell Turkey the advanced F-35 combat fighter jet. Washington has removed Ankara from the F-35 fighter jet programme and imposed sanctions.
“I told [Biden] that they should not expect Turkey to take a different step on the F-35 and S-400 issues because we did what we had to for the F-35s and gave the necessary money,” Erdoğan told reporters on a return flight from Azerbaijan on Thursday.
“We must monitor developments closely. We will be following up on all our rights,” he said.
Turkey and the US have been at odds over a host of other issues including policy differences in Syria and the Eastern Mediterranean.
The two leaders sounded upbeat after their meeting although they did not announce what concrete progress they made. One potential area of cooperation has been Afghanistan, where Ankara has offered to guard and operate Kabul airport after US and NATO forces withdraw in the coming weeks.
The security of the airport is crucial for the operation of diplomatic missions in Afghanistan as Western forces pull out.
Last week, a Taliban spokesman said Turkey should withdraw its troops from Afghanistan under the 2020 deal for the pullout of US forces but Sullivan said the Taliban comments did not deter the “detailed and effective” security plan the US is putting together.
“Obviously, we take seriously the concern that Taliban or other elements in Afghanistan will attack the Western or the international presence … We do not believe that what Taliban has said publicly should or will deter the efforts under way right now to establish that security presence,” Sullivan said.
As president, Biden has adopted a cooler tone than predecessor Donald Trump towards Erdoğan. Biden quickly recognised the 1915 massacre of Armenians as genocide and Biden has stepped up criticism of Turkey’s human rights record.
It was not clear if Biden raised the human rights issue with Erdoğan during his meeting and Sullivan provided little details on how, if at all, the impasse over the S-400s would be resolved.
“They discussed it. There was not a resolution of the issue. There was a commitment to continue the dialogue on the S-400 and the two teams will be following up on that coming out of the meeting,” he said.