Jun 29 2019

Trump has assured no U.S. sanctions over S-400 purchase, says Erdoğan

(Updated with Erdoğan's comments at press conference in Osaka)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Saturday that U.S. President Donald Trump stated the Washington would not impose sanctions on Turkey over Ankara’s decision to buy Russian S-400 missile systems, state-run Anadolu Agency reported.

Erdoğan said Turkey’s deal with Russia had already been completed and the S-400 systems were in delivery process, during a press conference at the end of the G-20 summit in Osaka.

“About sanctions, Mr. Trump clarified the issue today in his statement. We heard from himself that such a thing will not happen,” the Turkish President said, referring to Trump’s comments during a joint presser of two leaders before a bilateral meeting earlier in the day.

Erdoğan said Turkey’s defence procurement decisions were based on the market economy, adding that Turkey and Washington were strategic partners.

“As a strategic partner, it has no power to intervene our sovereign rights over steps we take, everybody should we aware of this,” he said.

The Turkish president also told the press that Ankara was currently purchasing Boeing jets from Washington.

“For example, while this S-400 issue is ongoing... we are purchasing 100 Boeing jets from Lockheed Martin,'' Erdoğan said.

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Saturday that United States and Turkey were in a complicated situation over Turkey’s decision to purchase Russian S-400 missile systems, adding that Ankara had not been treated fairly as the former U.S. administration under Barack Obama had not allowed Turkey to buy U.S.-made Patriot batteries.

Trump said Ankara and Washington were looking for a solution to resolve current tensions during a joint presser with Erdoğan.

“So, I have to tell you, he's a NATO member, he's somebody that I have become friendly with. And you have to treat people fairly,” Trump said about Erdoğan.

“We have a complicated situation because the president was not allowed to buy the Patriot missiles. So when he bought the other ones -- the S-200s or 400s -- when he bought them, he wanted to do this, but he wasn’t allowed by the Obama administration to buy them until after he made a deal to buy other missiles,” the U.S. president said. 

Trump also complimented the Turkish delegation that were present to meet their U.S. counterparts. “They're so easy to deal with. Look at them. Central casting. There's no Hollywood set where you could produce people that look like them,” he said. 

But the statement issued by the White House about the Trump-Erdoğan meeting set a different tone.

“The president expressed concern about Turkey’s potential purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defence system, and encouraged Turkey to work with the United States on defence cooperation in a way that strengthens the NATO alliance,” the White House said.

The Turkish presidency said in its statement that Eroğan had expressed Turkey's determination to fulfil requirements of its national security to the U.S. president during the bilateral meeting. “Erdoğan shared his concerns on efforts that might harm the countries' 'strategic partnership' with the U.S. president,” it said. 

Washington opposes Turkey’s plans to acquire S-400s over concerns that the Russian system will have implications for NATO interoperability and expose the F-35 fighter jets to possible Russian subterfuge.

Turkish officials have repeatedly said that Ankara would not renege on plans to acquire Russian systems according to a $2.5 billion contract signed with Moscow in 2017. Erdoğan said in Osaka on Saturday that there were no setbacks in the deal, adding that eyes were on the delivery process of S-400 missile systems expected in the first half of July.

The Pentagon last month said that Turkey would be ejected from the F-35 program by July 31 if it went ahead with plans to acquire S-400s. Turkey also risks U.S. sanctions that can be imposed under the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).

İsmail Demir, the head of state defence industry institution, who is likely to be a target of potential U.S. sanctions, was in the Turkish delegation in Osaka. 

The United States approved a $3.5 billion sale of missile systems to Turkey in December. The package included 80 Patriot missiles, 60 PAC-3 missile interceptors and related equipment. Turkey sought to buy the Patriot batteries during Obama’s presidency, but the U.S. Congress declined the offer for the sale.

“Trump’s statement isn’t accurate,” Bloomberg said citing the U.S. President's comments on Obama administration’s role in the current situation. "The U.S. has sought to sell Ankara the Patriot air-defence missile since at least 2013, but Erdogan has insisted it come with a transfer of technology so that Turkey can develop and build its own missiles. The Obama administration declined.”

According to Bloomberg, it is doubtful the Russians have agreed to provide Turkey much technology behind the S-400. But Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Saturday that Moscow’s S-400 deal with Ankara envisaged a partial handover of technologies, according to the Interfax news agency.

The U.S. President reiterated that Erdoğan was treated unfairly, when asked whether United States would impose sanctions on Turkey during his press conference at the end of the G-20 summit.

“Turkey is an interesting case,” Trump said. “President Erdoğan, he is tough, but I get along with him.”

According to Trump, the U.S. officials offered to sell Patriot missiles, only after Turkey decided to acquire Russian systems. 

“Now he (Erdoğan) says it is too late, I have already bought it,” the U.S. President said. “In the meantime, he bought 100 F-35s, greatest jets in the world. Now he wants delivery, he paid tremendous amount of money.”

“So it is a mess. It is not really Erdoğan’s fault,” Trump added. 

“Even if Trump sweet-talked, it seems difficult that Washington will soften its position,” said journalist Cansu Çamlıbel, the former Washington representative of Hürriyet daily, in relation to White House statement. 

“If president Erdoğan said in the meeting to Trump that ‘I am not saying we will purchase (S-400s), I am saying we already did’, then this is over,” she said. “But if he made a clear offer or implied other options like moving them (S-400s) to a third country, keeping them in a depot, or postponing the delivery, then the window for negotiations can remain open in the next couple of weeks.”

The investors in Turkey and abroad were closely following the meeting between Erdoğan and Trump, as during a diplomatic spat last year over the almost two year detention of Pastor Andrew Brunson, Turkish lira hit record lows after Trump announced sanctions on two Turkish ministers and doubled tariffs on Turkish metals.

“President Erdoğan gave me our pastor back. Pastor Brunson,” Trump said. “I called him and after a short period of time pastor Brunson was standing at the oval office with me,” he said. 

Brunson returned to his homeland after A Turkish court in October sentenced the American pastor to more than three years in prison on terrorism charges, but ruled he had already served his sentence after two years in detention and lifted Brunson's travel ban.