U.S. shares concerns with "potential purchase of S-400s" with Turkish Defense Minister

The United States shared its concern with Turkey’s potential purchase of the Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missile system during the meeting between Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan and Turkish Minister of Defense Hulusi Akar, Pentagon said. 

Both sides also discussed "operations to defeat ISIS in Syria", the Pentagon readout continued.

In the meeting, there were also Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., Turkish Ambassador Serdar Kiliç, and Commander of the Turkish Armed Forces Gen. Yaşar Güler, the readout said. 

Turkey’s deal to buy the S-400 system has aroused concerns amongst other NATO states. Amongst them are worries that the Russian system will not be interoperable with existing Turkish military equipment, most of which comes from the West. There have been concerns Russia would exploit the sale to gain valuable data relating to NATO weapons systems.

Latest spending bill signed by President Donald Trump on February 15 would bar F-35 jets going to Turkey until the Pentagon and the U.S. State Department would submit a report detailing the Turkish purchase of the S-400 missiles. It is not known this block also includes previous two F-35s that were already given to Turkey but still in Arizona.

According to Pentagon readout, officials from both countries, "agreed to continue cooperating to achieve stability and security in northeast Syria."

The United States has been clear with Turkey that the “acquisition of S-400 will inevitably affect prospects for Turkish military-industrial cooperation with the U.S., including F-35,” Wess Mitchell, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, said in testimony to the Senate in the summer of 2018.

Secretary Shanahan acknowledged the U.S.-Turkey bilateral relationship is “foundational to regional security” and thanked Minister Akar for Turkey’s commitment and support to the NATO alliance in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Iraq and NATO maritime activities.

Shanahan and Akar had quick remarks at the opening of the meetings. Shanahan, according to transcript provided by the U.S. Defense Department, said, "In preparation for our meeting today, I talked to many people here in the building.  You're very famous here." In response, Akar said, he only knows the Dunford in the building. 

Shanahan described the four or five meetings both sides had been so far as "very very productive." 

Akar said, "Our relationship is important. We are very much aware of this, not only for our bilateral relation, but also for the security and the stability of the region."

Akar, ended his remarks by saying "we will share our determination to fight against all terrorist organizations, including PKK, YPG, PYD, Daesh, FETO and others.  We have here every respect, just to reiterate, for the political unity and the territorial integrity of Syria, Iraq and other neighboring countries."

Turkey sees the People’s Protection Units (YPG) as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been fighting inside Turkey for more than 30 years, while YPG forms the backbone of U.S. backed forces in Syria fighting against the Islamic State.

While the United States recognises the PKK as a terrorist organisation, U.S. troops have armed and trained YPG fighters who make up the bulk of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) that has pushed Islamic State (ISIS) out of most of northern Syria. The Turkish government calls the Gulen Movement, led by Fethullah Gulen as "FETO" (the Fethullah Terrorist Organization) and accuses it to be behind the failed coup attempt in Turkey in 2016.

The press at the Pentagon was given a chance for asking a question about the U.S. troops staying in Syria and S-400 systems.

Shanahan, without elaborating, said, "our mission remains unchanged in terms of the defeat of ISIS.  The transition that we're working towards is stabilization, and to enhance the security capability of local security forces, and we'll do that as strategic partners."

Meanwhile Akar said, "the difference between the YPG, PYD, PKK, (inaudible) and (inaudible) terrorist organization and (inaudible) communities.  We have never, ever had any problems with either the Kurds or any of the other entities in Turkey or outside Turkey in Syria, but we are fighting against terrorist organizations."

When reminded of S-400 systems, Akar responded that they will discuss it during the meeting.

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