'No way' Turkey gives up S-400s - Erdoğan

Turkey will not give up its Russian missile defence systems despite the threat of U.S. sanctions, but is still interested in buying American Patriot systems to bolster its air defences, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told reporters on the return leg of his visit to Washington on Thursday, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

U.S. and NATO officials have said the presence of Russian-built S-400 systems on a NATO ally’s soil raises risks of subterfuge, especially on the new-generation F-35 fighter jets. Turkey was removed from the F-35 programme after receiving the first S-400s from Russia in July, and the delivery of 100 jets ordered by Turkey has been frozen.

However, despite the widespread enmity at the U.S. Congress, Erdoğan has a friendly partner in President Donald Trump, who has spoken positively about Turkey’s S-400 purchase and resisted calls to sanction Turkey according to 2017 legislation designed to discourage arms deals with Russia.

Trump has suggested selling Patriot missile systems to Turkey, but U.S. officials say no such sale can be made unless it gives up its S-400s. This will not happen, Erdoğan said during Thursday’s journey.

“We’ve offered to buy the Patriots. But we see the demand to completely remove the S-400s while doing so as an infringement on our sovereign rights. There’s no way we’re going to give up the S-400s and turn completely to Patriots,” he said.

The Turkish president said his government aimed to create a versatile defence system and would prefer for it to include both the S-400 and Patriot systems.

“They say you can’t have S-400s and F-35s working together in the same system, but anyway you’re not giving us F-35s. That’s another matter,” Erdoğan said.

“We’re not customers in the F-35 programme, we’re partners. There’s a total cost of $2.4 billion. We’ve already spent $1.4 billion,” he said.

The Turkish president is relying on Trump’s intercession to rescind Turkey’s suspension from the programme, and he said that the U.S. president’s position on the matter had been positive and constructive.

The two presidents are known to have close personal ties, and Trump has consistently fought Erdoğan’s corner despite condemnation from U.S. lawmakers.