U.S. vice president asks Erdoğan to cancel S-400 deal - media

The U.S. Vice President Mike Pence has asked Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to drop the purchase of Russian S-400 air defence missiles, the Middle East Eye reported on Tuesday.

The phone call between Pence and Erdoğan was first reported on Sunday by Burhanettin Duran, a columnist for the pro-government Sabah daily and the head of Turkish pro-government think-tank SETA. According to Duran, Erdoğan said that Pence had conveyed him the U.S. President Donald Trump’s request for the cancellation of the deal. 

Erdoğan does not see the cancellation of the S-400 deal as an option, Duran said in his column, adding that Pence’s request signaled that tensions between Ankara and Washington might heighten in the coming days over the issue of the S-400s. 

Trump on Friday signed a spending bill that suspended the delivery of F-35 figure jets to Turkey, until the secretaries of state and defence submit an update to a report on Turkey’s purchase of the S-400 s.

Pence told Erdoğan during the phone call that an alternative deal for Ankara to buy U.S.-made Patriot missiles instead of S-400s was still on the table, two Turkish sources with knowledge of the call told the Middle East Eye. 

Washington set Feb. 15 as an informal deadline for the Turkish government to respond to a rival U.S. offer regarding a $3.5-billion sale of Patriot air defence batteries, but the formal offer expires at the end of March. 

NATO is concerned if Turkey were to deploy the F-35s and the S-400s together it could compromise the fighter jets and allow Russian to glean sensitive information.

A U.S. delegation visiting Ankara last month relayed Washington’s message that the cancellation of Ankara’s contract with Moscow to buy the S-400s, worth a reported $2.5 billion, was a prerequisite for the sale of the U.S. system.