S-400s against NATO commitments, Sullivan tells Turkey top aide

There is strong bipartisan consensus in the United States that Turkey’s continued possession of the S-400 missile systems runs counter its NATO commitments, White House National Security Adviser Jack Sullivan said this week in a phone call with İbrahim Kalın, Spokesperson and Chief Adviser to the President of Turkey.

A White House National Security spokesperson told Ahval that Sullivan reiterated U.S. President Joe Biden’s concern about women’s rights in Turkey, over the sudden withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention, and continued commitment to supporting rule of law and democratic institutions, in the same call.

Sunday saw Biden issue his first statement on Turkey, to blast a decision by the Turkish president to pull the country out of the Council of Europe treaty, calling the move a “disheartening step backward” in the global struggle against violence against women.

U.S. officials have been pressing their Turkish counterparts to disown the Russian made missile systems. Turkey made the purchase after a failed coup attempt against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in 2016. The missile defences were deployed in Turkey in July 2019.

According to Turkish foreign affairs expert Aydın Sezer, the S-400s are activated and ready to use with a 45-minute preparation. Turkey has never tested or launched an S-400 missile, most likely to avoid further scrutiny from its Western allies.

According to the readout published by Turkish Presidency this week on the same call, Kalın spoke of “the importance of joint efforts to resolve through constructive engagement the areas of disagreement between the two countries such as the S-400s and F-35s”.

The Turkish readout also included Kalın as speaking on “Turkey’s sensitivity and determination regarding the need to fight determinedly against all terrorist organizations without discrimination including the PYD/YPG/PKK, DAESH and FETO”. These topics were not present in the U.S. readout sent to Ahval.

“It was also underscored that the fight to prevent every form of violence against women will continue with determination at a global scale,” the Turkish readout said, without mentioning the decision to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention.

“It was underlined that the relationship of close alliance between Turkey and the US should proceed on a basis of mutual respect, focusing on common interests and strategic priorities,” it said.

The White House statement said both officials had “discussed their shared interest in constructive bilateral relations and exchanged views on common regional concerns, including Libya and Syria”.

The call is the second one between these officials since Biden took office. Biden hasn’t called Erdoğan since he got elected in Nov. 2020, or responded to Erdoğan’s belated congratulatory message for his election victory. The latest high-level meeting between the countries was made in Brussels between U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavuşoğlu during a NATO summit this week, but it amounted to little.

There are a number of other pressing issues between the two countries, apart from the S-400s. So far, Washington has issued half a dozen statements condemning Turkey for human rights abuses and crackdown on the press or opposition figures.

Biden had his first phone call with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Thursday. According to the readout issued by the White House, Biden "conveyed his hope for stability in the Eastern Mediterranean." Also both leaders "agreed to coordinate on issues of shared interest, including energy security, China, Russia, and the Western Balkans."

The readout said, Biden "also conveyed his appreciation for our growing defense cooperation, including through the U.S. Naval Support Activity Souda Bay."

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.