Trump agrees with Turkey's S-400 purchase, says Erdoğan

During an interview with pro-government outlet HaberTürk on Thursday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made the revelation that his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump had endorsed Ankara’s planned purchase of Russian S-400 missile defence systems.

Erdoğan had most recently discussed the purchase last week, when he stated firmly the purchase would go ahead despite warnings of “grave consequences” from U.S. officials.

If true, Trump’s assurances to Erdoğan that he had “made the right decision” with the S-400 purchase contradict the efforts of U.S. state and military officials, as well as those from the NATO alliance, who fear the installation of Russian systems in a NATO country will harm defence inter-operability and could compromise sensitive data on new generation F-35 fighter jets.

U.S. officials have warned that shipments of the F-35 jets to Turkey should be cancelled if Ankara goes ahead with the purchase, and acting U.S. Secretary of Defense Kathryn Wheelbarger said on Wednesday Turkey could buy U.S. Patriot systems as an alternative – but only if it cancels the S-400 deal.

However, Erdoğan justified the deal with Russia by saying Turkey still faced threats from Syria, where Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime downed a Turkish reconnaissance jet in 2012. Erdogan also suggested Assad’s military is too equipped with S-400 systems. 

The Turkish president also repeated his earlier complaints that a previous request to purchase Patriot systems from the United States had been turned down by U.S. Congress.

“After Russia made a positive approach on the matter, we took decisive steps,” Erdoğan said. Moscow has also responded positively in talks on the issues of credit and interest for the purchase, which is worth a reported $2.5 billion, he added. 

Erdoğan said Moscow had also agreed to joint production of the S-400s with Turkey. Though the president has frequently spoken of joint production, no evidence supporting this has so far been made available to the public. The Russians have not confirmed this claim either.

“This deal is done, there’s no possibility of turning back now,” Erdoğan said, adding that the planned delivery of the missile defence systems has been brought forward to July.

Erdoğan said he had conveyed Trump these reasons for the S-400 purchase, and had been told by the U.S. president he was right over the phone recently. Erdogan and Trump have had several calls in recent months.

The Turkish president said he would still be open to discussing joint production and financial incentives for a deal to buy U.S. Patriot systems, but that these would not halt the delivery of the Russian systems.

Erdoğan did not discuss the issue of the F-35 fighter jets, despite questions from the HaberTürk presenters, and also avoided discussing northern Syria, where Ankara has been pressing for the creation of a Turkish-administered “safe zone” to prevent conflict with Kurdish militias after Trump’s planned withdrawal of U.S. troops.