Trump hints no sanctions on Turkey before Istanbul rerun – analysis

By accepting the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s proposal to establish a working group on Ankara’s planned purchase of Russian S-400 missile defence systems, U.S. President Donald Trump has hinted no sanctions will be imposed on Turkey until after the Istanbul mayoral election on June 23, Turkish journalist Murat Yetkin said in his blog on Wednesday. 

Citing anonymous U.S. and Turkish officials, Bloomberg reported last week the Turkish and U.S. presidents had agreed to set up a working group on the S-400 purchase during a phone conversation on May 29.

The U.S. Department of Defense Spokesman for NATO, Russia and Europe, Eric Pahon, told Ahval on Tuesday that a joint U.S.-Turkish working group would not mitigate U.S. concerns over S-400 missile systems. 

CNBC reported two weeks ago that Washington had given Turkey until the end of the first week in June to either cancel its acquisition of Russia’s S-400 missile system and buy U.S.-made Patriots or risk expulsion from the F-35 program, U.S. sanctions and possible blowback from NATO.

Turkey could be penalised under The Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) if it goes ahead with plans to purchase Russian systems, which Washington says could collect data on NATO military operations. 

According to Yetkin, the phone conversation between Trump and Erdoğan shows that the U.S. president had extended political credit to his Turkish counterpart, despite pressure from the U.S. Congress. 

Yetkin noted that official sources had said that the two leaders would meet on the sidelines of G-20 summit in Japan after the Istanbul rerun on June 23.

“This in fact can be interpreted as a sign that Trump would not announce sanctions on Turkey before June 23,” Yetkin said. 

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost local polls in Turkey’s financial powerhouse on March 31. However, Turkey’s Supreme Election Council (YSK) annulled the Istanbul vote and scheduled a rerun on June 23.

Yetkin said that by postponing sanctions, Trump in effect had prevented Erdoğan from blaming the United States if the opposition candidate Ekrem İmamoğlu wins local polls in Istanbul for a second time.

Erdoğan said on Tuesday that it was out of the question for Turkey to take a step back from its deal with Moscow to buy Russian S-400 missile defence systems.

Analysts say U.S. sanctions on Turkey could trigger a currency crisis in Turkey even more devastating than the crisis last year, when Turkish lira fell to record lows. 

That crisis hit after Trump announced sanctions on two Turkish ministers and doubled tariffs on Turkish metals due to a diplomatic spat over the almost two-year detention of an American pastor.

Journalist Murat Sabuncu said on Tuesday that foreign investors expected Turkey to cancel the S-400 deal with Moscow. 

“They see S-400s as a serious step toward drifting away from the West. They still strongly believe that Turkey can retract or find a formula, saying otherwise there can be serious problems in financial inflows to Turkey and their interest rates,” Sabuncu quoted an unnamed source who met foreign investors as saying. 

The U.S. ambassador to NATO told CNBC on Tuesday that a Russian missile system under the same military control as an F-35 fighter jet was unacceptable.

“You have to make a choice. You can have one or the other but not both,” said Kay Bailey Hutchison, the U.S. NATO ambassador and former U.S. senator.