Turkey's S-400s will not paint F-35s as enemies when purchased - Turkey

The Turkish foreign minister has reiterated Ankara’s resolve to buy Russian S-400 missile defence systems, which he suggested will not create the problems feared by NATO officials because they “will not see NATO systems as enemies”.

Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu was speaking at a reception to observe the National Sovereignty and Children's Day on April 23, celebrating the 99th anniversary of the founding of the Turkish Parliament.

“We are going to use (the S-400 systems) for our own defence. They will be under our control”, Turkish secularist daily Cumhuriyet quoted Çavuşoğlu as saying.

NATO officials have said the presence of the Russian S-400s in a NATO-allied country could leave data on the alliance’s defence systems, including the latest generation F-35 stealth fighter jets, vulnerable to theft by Russian operatives. 

Çavuşoğlu denied that Turkey’s S-400 purchase would leave the systems exposed, since the Russian systems already operate in close proximity to countries party to the F-35 programme, including Norway and Israel.

This reasoning is not likely to persuade the U.S. government, which is mulling over two bills that will block the transfer of F-35 jets to Turkey and potentially require U.S. sanctions on Turkish officials if the S-400 purchase goes through.

Analysts argue that having F-35s stationed close to S-400s in opposing countries (Norway vs. Russia or Israel vs. Syria) is different than having both in the same armed forces, as Turkey aims to do as a NATO country.

"The S-400 is a significant weapons system, and we’ve shared with them, we’ve asked them to go take a look CAATSA, what that might well mean for them," Pompeo said in early April.

U.S. officials have called for sanctions on Turkey if it goes ahead with the purchase of S-400 under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which targets Russia as well as Iran and North Korea. The Turkish side argues that, since the purchase of the S-400 precedes the beginning of CAATSA, Turkey should not face the sanctions.

Turkish officials have appealed directly to U.S. President Donald Trump to intervene in the dispute, Bloomberg reported earlier this month, and Turkey's economy minister and Erdoğan's son-in-law Berat Albayrak confirmed that he personally discussed the issue with Trump at the Oval Office last week.

On Tuesday, Turkish press quoted Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as saying at a reception in Ankara he may hold a conversation with Trump in the coming days.

At the same reception, Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said Turkey had a “plan B” if the F-35 transfer is blocked.

“We have short, medium and long-term plans. The process is not yet locked in. Four of our pilots are already flying (the F-35 jets), two more are preparing for flight training, and training continues for between 35 and 40 of our personnel”, said Akar.

Turkey’s pilots are receiving training on the new jets in the United States.

Çavuşoğlu went on to criticise the U.S. sanctions on Iran for the second time on Tuesday, which have left Turkey forced to choose between losing a major source of energy imports or facing U.S. sanctions if it continues trading with its neighbour.

“This isn’t just a decision that affects us, it matters to other countries too. You can’t diversify your oil imports, you can’t find alternative sources. The pipelines from Iraq to Turkey are broken, or there are low-capacity pipelines”, the minister said.

The Turkish government will address another of the disagreements souring U.S.-Turkish relations on Wednesday when the cabinet of ministers meet at the Defence Ministry to discuss the situation in northern Syria, Çavuşoğlu added.

In the international operation to defeat the Islamic State, U.S.-backed Kurdish militias have taken control of large swathes of northern Syria bordering Turkey. Ankara sees these groups, including the People’s Protection Units (YPG), as a threat due to their links to Kurdish militants in Turkey.

Çavuşoğlu said Turkish officials were preparing to submit new proposals to their U.S. counterparts, including one on the creation of a safe zone along the Turkish border.

Akar said U.S. officials were coming closer to accepting Turkey’s views on the situation.

“The United States is coming closer to our arguments in Syria, because our arguments are sound”, said the defence minister.