Trump administration hangs over Turkey for delivery of Russian missile system

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On Friday morning, a video showed Russian planes unloading parts of the S-400 missile defense system in Turkey. For months, US officials have warned Turkey – a NATO ally – that the Russian system is incompatible with and poses a security risk to the F-35 program, and that Turkey would be removed from the program if they choose to buy the S -400.

Turkey also faces possible US sanctions for purchasing Russian defense equipment under a law passed by Congress in 2017 to force President Donald Trump’s hand to be tougher on Moscow – sanctions that Trump would not commit to impose two weeks ago when he met Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The Pentagon announced Friday morning that it would hold a briefing on camera to discuss its response, but that briefing was delayed until the Pentagon told reporters it had been “postponed indefinitely.”

Ahead of his meeting with Uzbekistan’s defense minister, Acting Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters on Friday that the department was aware that Turkey was taking delivery of the missile defense system.

“Our position on the F-35 has not changed,” he said. “I will speak with my Turkish counterpart, Minister Akar this afternoon. So there will be more to follow after this conversation.”

A US defense official said the conversation between Esper and Akar lasted 30 minutes, with the delivery of the S-400 being one of the many talking points. Pentagon will not provide appeal reading, but Turkish reading would have said Akar demanded that a US delegation be urgently sent to Ankara next week to continue the dialogue.

Senior Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committee issued a joint statement on Friday afternoon, urging Trump to “fully implement the sanctions required by law” against Turkey for accepting the S-400. They also urged the Pentagon “to end Turkey’s participation in the F-35 program.”

“It was not necessary to come to this. But unfortunately President Erdogan rejected multiple attempts by the United States to preserve our strategic relationship,” said Senator Jim Risch (R-ID), Bob Menendez ( D-NJ), Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and Jack Reed (D-RI).

“A lasting improvement in our cooperation will not be possible as long as President Erdogan remains obsessed with deepening ties with Vladimir Putin to the detriment of Turkey’s economic prosperity and the security of the NATO alliance,” adds the press release.

But when Trump was asked two weeks ago at the G-20 if he would sanction Turkey for the S-400, he said it was a “complicated deal.”

“We are working on it,” the president said. “We’ll see what we can do.”

Trump backed Erdogan by blaming the Obama administration for refusing to sell Turkey’s Patriot missile defense system, which Trump says forced Ankara to turn to Russia.

“It’s a mess. It’s a mess, and honestly, it’s not really Erdogan’s fault,” Trump told the G-20. “I think he was treated unfairly.”

But that claim “is not true,” Risch, a Trump ally and prominent Republican, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

In 2013 in particular, he added, Turkey “has had many opportunities to purchase our Patriot missiles for many years.”

Morgan Ortagus, spokesman for the State Department, said Tuesday that Turkey “will face real and negative consequences if it accepts the S-400”, including economic sanctions.

Months after Trump’s tenure began, Congress passed legislation to sanction Russia, as well as North Korea and Iran, for meddling in the 2016 election. The president, under political pressure for himself being moved closer to Putin in Germany in July, reluctantly signed.

Among other requirements, the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) required the administration to sanction any country that purchases equipment from a list of Russian defense or intelligence agencies or companies.

The law has only been used once, against China’s defense procurement agency, which purchased Russian fighter jets and missile systems. But the State Department has repeatedly warned that Turkey would face similar sanctions for its S-400 purchase.

The State Department did not respond to requests for comment on the application of the sanctions on Friday.

Turkey will also be affected economically by the loss of the F-35 program.

More than 900 parts found inside the F-35 are built in Turkey, as part of the original international consortium agreement for US allies to develop the F-35. About 400 of these parts, found in the aircraft’s landing gear and center fuselage, are made exclusively by Turkish manufacturers.

Pentagon officials have already sought to make arrangements to find additional production facilities in other countries by early 2020.


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