S-400 will have "severe consequences" for Turkey - White House

Procuring the Russian-made S-400 missile defence system will have "severe consequences" on the U.S. relationship with Turkey, a senior White House official told Ahval on Wednesday. 

Turkey responded this week to the Pentagon's letter laying down a July 31 deadline for Turkey to decide about the S-400. At a U.S. air base in Arizona, the Turkish pilots who were training in U.S.-made F-35 fighter jets were grounded, halting Turkey's participation in the programme. 

"The United States has gone to great lengths to warn Turkey that acquisition of the Russian S-400 system is unacceptable and could trigger the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA)," a senior White House official said in an email to Ahval. 

U.S. officials are discussing three sanctions packages to punish Turkey for the S-400 purchase, the most severe of which would all but cripple Turkey’s economy, according to a Bloomberg report. 

The CAATSA sanctions, which would bar the firms from the U.S. financial system, are mandatory because Turkey is buying weapons from banned Russian companies, U.S. congressional leaders have argued. The sanctions would likely hit a significant number of key firms and individuals in Turkey's defence industry, damaging the industry and further hurting Turkey's troubled economy.

"The U.S. made our strongest possible offer on the PATRIOT air and missile defense system, a viable alternative to the S-400," the White House official said, referring to an offer made this past January. "Should Turkey procure the S-400, its continued participation in the F-35 program will not be possible. The S-400 is a Russian intelligence gathering platform that risks the safety of our aircraft and pilots. The steps we will be forced to take should Turkey acquire the S-400 will be painful and expensive for the United States, but we cannot endanger our people."

Erdoğan has repeated that there would be no going back on the S-400 deal. "This work is already done. The file is closed and, God willing, we will receive what we've ordered very shortly," he said in Istanbul on Tuesday. “If America wants to give us Patriots then let them. Anyway they are giving them to terrorists for free."

U.S. officials expressed a willingness to help Turkey, to ameliorate the impact of cancelling the deal with Moscow. A top U.S. official said the Trump administration has "the strong desire to forego" the steps that would create "severe consequences". That, however, "requires a willingness by Turkey to engage in a meaningful way about cancelling the S-400 purchase," the official said. "The United States stands ready to discuss how to minimise any consequences that may ensue from such cancellation."

The U.S. official did not comment when asked what Washington might do to mitigate the impact of a cancellation. 

This is not the first time Turkey is facing the risk of U.S. sanctions due to its military procurement. Sıtkı Egeli, professor at the Izmir University of Economics and former foreign relations director of Turkey's Undersecretariat for Defence, told Ahval this week:  

In 2013, Turkey’s decision to choose a Chinese company to supply a $3.4 billion long-range missile system raised similar concerns among its Western allies. Turkish companies faced sanctions as a result.

“Turkey experienced first-hand the unexpected consequences of this. For example Turkey’s largest defence company was denied receiving services from a U.S. finance institution for a public offering,” Egeli said.