Erdogan Breaks Silence on U.S. to Stand by Russian Missile Deal
(Bloomberg) -- President Recep Tayyip Erdogan broke his silence over a U.S. threat to punish Turkey with sanctions should it buy an advanced Russian S-400 missile-defense system, saying the purchase is a “done deal.”
“It is out of the question for us to revoke the S-400 deal,” Erdogan said during an interview with TV24 television broadcast late Wednesday. “Such an immoral act would not suit us.”
The U.S. warned this week that it could retaliate by blocking Turkey’s planned purchase of the next-generation F-35 fighters it’s helping to build. The U.S. fears the Russian system could be used to collect intelligence on the jet’s stealth capabilities, but Erdogan said “we’ve researched it, there is no such thing.”
Ties remain strained between the NATO allies even after Turkey defused a showdown last year by freeing long-held U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson. President Donald Trump on Monday stripped some Turkish exporters of their preferential trade status, and the U.S. warned of penalties against any government entities, private businesses or individuals involved in the purchase of the missiles from Russia. The Pentagon is also seeking to install a multinational force in a planned Syria safe zone over Turkey’s objections.
Erdogan said “no one should attempt to tame Turkey” with threats on trade and that his country wouldn’t agree to a U.S. proposal to sell its own Patriot missile-defense system unless it shares the technology.
“We will not go into a deal if they insist on keeping the ‘key’ to the system,” Erdogan said of the Patriot missiles. “We’ve agreed with the Russians, we will go into joint production. We may also go into S-500s after the S-400s.”
The top U.S. Commander in Europe, Curtis Scaparrotti, told the Senate Armed Services on Tuesday that the Pentagon should refuse Turkey’s planned purchase of 100 Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighters if Ankara goes through with buying the S-400s. Turkey has invested more than $1.25 billion in the stealth F-35 jet since its development phase began in 2002.
The U.S. can’t dictate that Turkey should buy everything from it, Erdogan said, reminding that the country’s flagship Turkish Airlines is purchasing planes from Boeing Co. worth about $10 billion.
“We’re not a slave, we’re independent,” Erdogan said. “We’ve completed the signatures with Russia for the S-400 deal under very very suitable conditions and they’ve brought the delivery forward to July. God willing, we will receive the first system in July.”
Another major rift with the U.S. is over Washington’s support for a Syrian Kurdish force that Ankara regards as a mortal enemy. To keep the Kurdish fighters away from its frontier, Turkey wants to secure a Syria safe zone along its border rather see that job done by a multinational force.
Washington allied with the Kurdish YPG militia in the battle against Islamic State, and wants an international armed presence stationed in a future safe zone to protect them from Turkey.
“We can’t say ‘yes’ to giving control of the safe zone to anyone but Turkey,” Erdogan said. “Otherwise, we would be facing the threat of an attack from that area any moment.”
Despite the grievances, Erdogan also struck an optimistic note by speaking favorably about Trump. The Turkish president said the two leaders may soon talk on the phone and added that his son-in-law, Treasury and Finance Minister Berat Albayrak, was also in touch with Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to defuse the tensions.
“I don’t find any of these serious,” Erdogan said. “I believe discussions that I will hold with him, and discussions between Mr. Berat and Kushner, will put things back on track.”
©2019 Bloomberg L.P.