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 was not treated fairly as the former U.S. administration under Barack Obama had not allow Turkey to buy U.S.-made Patriot batteries.
Trump said Ankara and Washington were looking for a solution to resolve current tensions over Turkey’s plans to acquire S-400 systems, during a joint presser with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Osaka.
“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 for a bilateral meeting with 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.
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 countries’ ‘strategic partnership’ with 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 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.”
“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.”
Journalist Mehmet Sümer from the Voice of America also noted the difference between Trump’s comments and the White House statement. “Eventually, the United States’ stance remains the same; there is nothing new apart from the offer that we can sell you Patriots if you do not purchase S-400s,” he said.