Turkey Snubs U.S. Request to Delay Russian Missile Purchase

(Bloomberg) -- Turkey rebuffed a U.S. request to postpone the purchase of a Russian missile-defense system in a move that could further strain ties between the NATO allies.

“A delay or halt at this point is out of the question, it’s not on our agenda,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters in Ankara on Wednesday. “Why should we talk about a delay? It’s a done deal.”

The U.S. last week asked Ankara to postpone receiving the S-400 batteries -- which was set for July -- into 2020, according to people familiar with the proposal. The proposed purchase has angered President Donald Trump’s administration, which argues that integrating it with NATO’s second-largest army could help Moscow gather critical intelligence on the stealth capabilities of the next generation F-35 fighter planes, which Turkish manufacturers help build.

Pushing ahead with the deal carries a high risk of U.S. punishments that could plunge Turkey into renewed economic turmoil and further erode trust on both sides of an already troubled relationship. But the agreement with Moscow reflects Ankara’s desire for an increasingly independent role in regional policies and dependence on Russia’s support in neighboring Syria as well as its supplies of natural gas, tourists and agricultural goods.

“There are costs for Turkey to walk away from the missile deal with Moscow,” Murat Yesiltas, security policy director of the Ankara-based SETA think tank, said Wednesday. “The S-400 deal does not signal a shift in Turkey’s alliances and it is not a major military engagement with Russia. It is more about Turkey’s independent policy making in the region.”

The lira extended its losses against the dollar after Cavusoglu’s remarks, trading 0.4% weaker at 3:51 p.m. in Istanbul.

The U.S. has warned that if Turkey’s completes the more than $2 billion S-400 purchase it could be expelled from Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35 program and also face sanctions under the two pieces of legislation: the Magnitsky Act and CAATSA, which allows the punishment of entities doing business with parts of the Russian state.

A bipartisan group of eight senior U.S. House members introduced a resolution on Wednesday calling on Turkey to cancel the planned S-400 acquisition.

“If Ankara buys Russian missile systems, the United States should immediately implement sanctions and boot Turkey from the F-35 program,” Representative Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a joint statement.

Turkish companies were set to produce about $12 billion in parts for the jet, and the Turkish air force planned to buy about 100 of the planes. Deliveries of F-35 equipment to Turkey have been suspended.

The last time the U.S. sanctioned some members of the Turkish government, over the arrest of an American preacher, it amplified problems already haunting the Turkish economy. An ensuing collapse in the value of the currency hastened the country’s first recession in a decade.

As it presses ahead with the Russia deal, Turkey is also in talks with the U.S. over whether to establish a joint commission, including NATO, to study “whether the U.S. claims and concerns are right or not,” Cavusoglu said.

The U.S. balked for years at selling its Patriot air defense system to Turkey and sharing its technology at the same time. In December, the State Department notified Congress that it had proposed allowing the sale, a gambit seemingly designed to get Erdogan to scrap the S-400 deal. Although Ankara remains engaged in talks with Washington, it’s still asking for the transfer of the U.S. missile technology.

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