Turkey Seeks Trump’s Support to Defuse Russian Missile Dispute
(Bloomberg) -- Turkey has taken its case for buying a Russian air-defense system directly to President Donald Trump, in a last-ditch effort to defuse tensions between the NATO allies.
“We delivered our message and received quite positive feedback,” Treasury and Finance Minister Berat Albayrak told reporters on Monday, after he explained to the U.S. president why Turkey needs missiles that have raised questions about its alliance with the West. It’s likely to use the advanced system to defend Istanbul, the country’s commercial center, and its capital, Ankara, according to Defense Minister Hulusi Akar.
Turkey’s decision to purchase the Russian missiles has poisoned ties with the U.S. since it was made public in 2017. Ankara says it was forced to turn to Russia for protection against aerial attacks after Washington balked for years at selling it Patriot missile defense systems. But the U.S. says the Russian missile shield was designed to shoot down American and allied aircraft, including Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which Turkish manufacturers help build.
Washington has threatened to impose sanctions under legislation that allows the punishment of entities doing business with parts of the Russian state, and to expel Turkey from the F-35 program. U.S. sanctions would likely intensify market turmoil, as happened during a diplomatic standoff between the countries last year.
In December, the U.S. State Department abandoned its opposition to selling Patriots to Turkey in a gambit to get it to halt the S-400 deal. But Turkey has rejected the U.S. proposal unless the Patriot technology is shared.
The first batch of S-400 missiles may be delivered as early as June. Future shipments might involve technology transfer to Turkey, Akar told reporters who traveled to Washington, where he was meeting with American officials. Albayrak, the Turkish president’s son-in-law, said he also met Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
Patrick Shanahan, the acting U.S. defense secretary, has called Turkey’s planned purchase of the S-400 “incompatible” with the sale of F-35s. U.S. officials have said they’re concerned that sensitive F-35 technology designed to evade such a system could be compromised and used to improve Russian air-defense technology.
The Turkish defense chief tried to play down that threat, saying the S-400 would operate independently from systems used by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, to which Turkey belongs.
“Turkish-American ties can’t be disregarded,” Akar said a day before his planned meeting with Shanahan. "Our hope and wish is that these meetings will make it possible to find a solution to the problems." Ankara is proceeding on the assumption that it will receive F-35s and use them alongside the S-400, he added.
On Monday, pro-government columnist Okan Muderrisoglu wrote in the Sabah daily that the Russian missiles could be stationed in neighboring Azerbaijan or Qatar.
When asked about the possibility of receiving the S-400 system, but not deploying it to avert further American pressure, Akar said: “These are all options. Let’s see what the process ahead will bring.”
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