(Bloomberg) — Turkey hopes it can end its standoff with the U.S. over Ankara’s purchase of a Russian missile-defense system, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said, even if talks are underway for a second S-400 missile battery.
Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400s has alarmed its NATO allies because of its ability to gather intelligence on western capabilities, especially the F-35 stealth fighter jet. The U.S. imposed sanctions on the country’s defense industry and Turkey has been suspended from the program to help build Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35.
While he appealed to the incoming Biden administration to reconsider U.S. sanctions imposed last month, Akar ruled out getting rid of the missiles.
“There is no such thing on our agenda at this stage,” he told reporters in Ankara on Wednesday. Talks with Russia are underway for a second S-400 system, he said. Discussions for the co-production of European-made air defenses, known as the Eurosam SAMP/T, had slowed due to the pandemic.
“We would prefer NATO-compatible systems like SAMP/T should there be progress in talks,” he said.
Erdogan has adopted a conciliatory tone as Joe Biden’s Jan. 20 inauguration approaches, but Congress has pushed to make it more difficult for Turkey to receive waivers from the penalties unless it gets rid of the Russian weaponry.
Turkey’s links to Russia have triggered concerns in the West that Ankara is loosening its bonds with its old allies as it seeks to play a bigger role in the Middle East where it has also been at odds with the U.S. over Syria. Akar denied that Ankara is drifting away from NATO, calling the purchase of the Russian missiles a necessity.
He appealed for dialogue to address the U.S. concerns. Washington has rejected a longstanding Turkish proposal to create a working group to discuss the missiles.
“We want our U.S. allies to review their decision once again in this new period,” Akar said.
The U.S. sanctions effectively cut off Turkey’s top defense procurement agency from U.S. financial institutions, military hardware and technology. The faceoff over the missiles has strained Turkish-U.S. relations for years. Turkey bought the air-defense system from Moscow in 2017 after rejecting U.S. terms for selling its Patriot system to Ankara. The Turkish government wanted the U.S. to transfer missile technology as part of the deal, something the U.S. refused.
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The purchase of the missiles and the system’s delivery to Turkey last year prompted bipartisan demands in Congress for restrictive measures long resisted by U.S. President Donald Trump. The U.S. administration acted after Turkey test-fired the S-400 on Oct. 16, to the dismay of the U.S. Defense Department and NATO allies.
Akar reiterated the S-400s won’t be integrated into NATO’s command-and-control infrastructure, but will be used as a standalone system, similar to the use of Russian-made S-300 weapons within the NATO alliance.
Akar said Turkey, which hosts an early-warning radar in Kurecik, a critical part of European missile-defense system, does not see itself as separate from NATO’s defense structure. It is merely trying to enhance its own missile-defense capabilities, he said.