Ex-CIA chief Petraeus: Crucial time for Turkey and NATO alliance

The United States did not welcome Turkey’s purchase of the Russian-made S-400 air defence systems, but the country remains a geo-strategically important NATO member, U.S. Army general and former director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) David Petraeus told CNBC on Thursday.

“This is a sensitive time in the relationship not just between Turkey and the U.S. but Turkey and its NATO partners writ large,” Petraeus said.

Washington still needs the country as an ally despite recent concerning behaviour, he said.

The United States had removed Turkey from the F-35 stealth fighter jet program upon the country’s purchase of the S-400s, citing security risks related to a NATO system being operated alongside a Russian-made one.

The United States also halted Turkey’s purchase of 110 F-35 jets, but there have been talks to find a solution for the country’s readmission into the program. 

“I’m sure that some of the discussions that they’ve had have been to try and find a path forward where something could be done so that that system is not operating at the same time as the F-35, if it is allowed to be sold to Turkey now, having been halted. That could go forward,” Petraeus said.

Turkey’s Presidential Spokesman İbrahim Kalın on Friday said efforts ad started for the joint mechanism for the S-400 and the F-35, and on President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan repeated Turkey’s intention to purchase U.S.-made Patriot air defence systems.

Turkey has played an important role for U.S. assets in the Middle East, Petraeus said.

The country’s İncirlik Air Base houses some 5,000 U.S. military personnel, and an estimated 50 nuclear weapons. The presence of the B-61 nuclear bombs, which were never publicly acknowledged, has been a point of discussion since Turkey launched a military incursion into Syria in October.

The incursion ended after Turkey made two separate deals with the United States and Russia to establish a safe zone in northern Syria along its border, with the aim to remove the U.S.-allied Kurdish groups from the area as Turkey considers them to pose a threat to its national security.

Petraeus said the area where Turkey will have a presence within Syria needs to be clearly defined so the United States can determine where its troops will be located in support of the Kurdish forces, who have withdrawn from a 32 km deep area between northeastern Syrian towns of Tel Abyad and Ras al Ayn as part of Turkey’s agreements.