US, Turkey remain divided over purchase of Russia’s S-400s

Top U.S. and Turkish diplomats failed on Wednesday to overcome sharp differences over Turkey’s purchase of an advanced Russian air defense system, which Washington sees as a security threat, reports Associated Press.  Despite the differences on a very controversial issue, the White House retained its silence on Turkey. PA Turkey screened press reports in Turkey and abroad carefully, but couldn’t find any reference to additional US sanctions.  If such were to come to the agenda, Turkey’s weak economy could collapse into a Balance of Payments crisis, potentially dragging weak Developing Nations on a global contagion.


Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told Turkish journalists, following a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Brussels, that Turkey would not step back from its decision to operate the Russian S-400s. The meeting, held on the sidelines of a NATO gathering, was their first since President Joe Biden’s administration took office in January.



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“We have told them once again that Turkey has already bought the S-400s and that the issue is closed,” Cavusoglu said in televised comments, despite U.S. pressure on Ankara to get rid of the system.


He added however, that he also told Blinken that Turkey aimed to procure its future air defense needs from the United States or other NATO allies.


The U.S. and Turkey are at loggerheads over a host of issues, but especially over Turkey’s acquisition of the anti-aircraft system, which Washington says poses a threat to NATO and to the U.S. F-35 fighter aircraft program. Washington kicked Turkey out of the F-35 production program and last year imposed sanctions on senior Turkish defense industry officials, as well as bans on military export licenses. The penalties were imposed under a law that aims at pushing back on Russian influence.



Prior to Monday, the U.S. had kicked Turkey out of its F-35 stealth fighter development and training program over the S-400 purchase.


Turkey argues that the Russian system, which cost it $2.5 billion, is not a threat to NATO, and has repeatedly called for dialogue to resolve the issue. Washington insists the sanctions cannot be lifted as long as the Russian system remains in Turkey’s possession.


A U.S. State Department statement said Wednesday that during their talk, “Blinken urged Turkey not to retain the Russian S-400 air defense system.”


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On Tuesday, Blinken said during a news conference with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg that “it’s no secret that we have differences with Turkey, including over the S-400s.”


He continued: “It’s also no secret that Turkey is a long-standing and valued ally, and one that I believe we have a strong interest in keeping anchored to NATO.”


Meanwhile, Cavusoglu told journalists that his talks with Blinken also focused on U.S.-supported plans for Turkey to host peace talks between the conflicting sides in Afghanistan, before a May 1 deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops from the country.



Turkey and the U.S. were working to ensure that the Afghan government and the Taliban reach an agreement on a “roadmap” for Afghanistan during the Turkish-hosted conference, Cavusoglu said.



Ankara is likely to interpret White House silence as  license to keep the coveted S-400s.  White House   may think Turkey has more value in a very troubled region as a part-time ally, as long as the military doesn’t activate the -400s.


So far, EU threats and US encouragement helped diffuse the crisis in Eastern Mediterranean, with Turkish drill ships safely anchored in Turkish harbors.


It is also possible that Blinken did lay out a map for upcoming sanctions, but both sides decided to keep it secret while Ankara formulates a response.


Even if the S-400 dispute and East Med issues remain dormant, April promises to be a turbulent month for Turko-American relations, because of the impending Halkbank trial and numerous press reports claiming Biden will recognize the so-called Armenian genocide.


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Published By: Atilla Yeşilada

GlobalSource Partners’ Turkey Country Analyst Atilla Yesilada is the country’s leading political analyst and commentator. He is known throughout the finance and political science world for his thorough and outspoken coverage of Turkey’s political and financial developments. In addition to his extensive writing schedule, he is often called upon to provide his political expertise on major radio and television channels. Based in Istanbul, Atilla is co-founder of the information platform Istanbul Analytics and is one of GlobalSource’s local partners in Turkey. In addition to his consulting work and speaking engagements throughout the US, Europe and the Middle East, he writes regular columns for Turkey’s leading financial websites VATAN and and has contributed to the financial daily Referans and the liberal daily Radikal.