Turkey’s leader says his country is considering buying a second Russian missile system despite strong objections by NATO ally the United States.
In an interview with American broadcaster CBS News, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey would make decisions on its defence systems independently.
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Speaking to correspondent Margaret Brennan in New York last week, Erdogan explained that Turkey was not given the option to buy American-made Patriot missiles and the US had not delivered F-35 stealth jets despite receiving a payment of $1.4bn.
“In the future, nobody will be able to interfere in terms of what kind of defence systems we acquire, from which country at what level,” Erdogan said in an interview that aired on Sunday. “Nobody can interfere with that. We are the only ones to make such decisions.”
NATO member Turkey was kicked out of the F-35 programme and its defence officials sanctioned after it bought the Russian-made S-400 missile defence system.
The US strongly objects to the use of Russian systems within NATO and says it poses a threat to the F-35s. Turkey maintains the S-400s can be used independently without being integrated into NATO systems and therefore pose no risk.
Last year, the US sanctioned Turkey for its purchase under a 2017 law aimed at pushing back Russian influence. The move was the first time the law – called the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) – was used to penalise an American ally.
However, Erdogan has remained defiant.
Talks continued between Russia and Turkey about the delivery of a second batch of S-400s, which Washington has repeatedly said would almost certainly trigger new sanctions.
“We urge Turkey at every level and opportunity not to retain the S-400 system and to refrain from purchasing any additional Russian military equipment,” said a State Department spokesperson when asked about Erdogan’s comments.
Before departing New York, Erdogan told journalists that relations with President Joe Biden had not started well despite what he called his good work with previous US leaders during his 19 years at Turkey’s helm.
“I cannot honestly say that there is a healthy process in Turkish-American relations,” state-run Anadolu news agency quoted Erdogan as saying Thursday.
Erdogan also said Biden never raised the issue of Turkey’s human rights record.
Asked whether Biden brought up the issue during their June meeting on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Brussels, Erdogan said: “No he didn’t. And because we don’t have any problems of that nature in terms of freedoms, Turkey is incomparably free.”
Erdogan also told Turkish media Turkey was already developing its own missile defence system.
The issue is one of several sticking points in Turkish-American relations that also include US support for Syrian Kurdish fighters who Turkey considers “terrorists”, and the continued US residency of Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim religious leader and businessman accused of plotting the coup attempt against Erdogan’s government in 2016.
Erdogan is scheduled to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday.