Turkish official hints at potential S-400 missile compromise with US

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Feb 9, 2021

ISTANBUL — Ever for the reason that first batch of S-400 missiles landed simply outdoors Ankara in 2019, Turkey’s acquisition of the Russian-made air protection system has been a central friction level in its relations with the United States.

Washington has repeatedly known as on Turkey to take away the S-400s from its territory, citing considerations that their radars pose a risk to NATO protection infrastructure. Leading Turkish officers, nonetheless, maintained the missiles have been essential to bolster home safety. This stance initially led to the nation’s suspension from NATO’s F-35 fighter jet program and later, in December 2020, noticed the imposition of US sanctions on Turkey over the acquisition.

Throughout the discord, a high safety concern for Ankara has been Washington’s cooperation with Kurdish forces in Syria referred to as the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Turkish officers view as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a militant insurgency that has been at conflict with the Turkish state for the reason that 1980s. Since 2014, the United States has labored with YPG forces to eradicate the Islamic State from northeast Syria.

Now, nearly three weeks into US President Joe Biden’s tenure, a high Turkish determine has hinted at a potential opening to settle the long-standing S-400 subject by linking it with Ankara’s considerations over Kurdish forces in Syria. In an interview with the Hurriyet newspaper printed Tuesday, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar signaled that Ankara is perhaps prepared to compromise on the Russian missiles if Washington reevaluates its assist to the YPG.

“The most sensitive issue in our relations with the US is the country’s support to the YPG, the PKK’s arm in Syria,” Akar informed Hurriyet. “We can find a solution for the S-400s in our negotiations with the US but we expect them to see the facts about the YPG. If we cannot find a solution [regarding the YPG], we cannot go anywhere in relations with the US.”

The assertion was the primary of its variety since Ankara acquired the S-400s and prompted hypothesis as as to if such negotiations may provide an avenue to defuse grievances on a vary of points. Turkey knowledgeable Aaron Stein, nonetheless, informed Al-Monitor that Ankara would want to supply extra to “satisfy a very angry Congress.”

“The statement is noteworthy and clearly a budge off the maximalist rhetoric we have been hearing,” stated Stein, the analysis director on the US-based Foreign Policy Research Institute. “However, I would temper expectations of a quick reset. First, we need to hear this from [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan. He is the only one that really matters.”

Erdogan stated Jan. 15 that he hoped the incoming Biden administration would take “positive steps” in negotiations relating to the S-400s and Turkey’s suspension from the F-35 fighter jet program.

“Despite having paid a serious fee on the F-35s, the F-35s still have not been given to us. This is a serious wrong the United States did against us as a NATO ally,” Erdogan stated.

But Pentagon press secretary John Kirby stated Feb. 5 that the United States wouldn’t carry the F-35 ban on Turkey. Kirby stated the S-400 buy was “inconsistent with Turkey’s commitments as a US and NATO ally” earlier than urging Ankara to not retain the S-400 programs.

In his feedback to Hurriyet, Akar stated no different NATO-allied international locations had raised the S-400 subject with Turkey. He additionally famous that a number of former Warsaw Pact international locations in Europe which have since joined NATO retained Soviet-era weapons programs with out coming below comparable punitive measures.

Seeking a potential center highway, Akar stated the 1998 switch of Russian-made S-300 missiles from the Republic of Cyprus to the Greek island of Crete may function a mannequin.  He stated the S-300s in Crete are hardly ever operational and stay largely in storage, just like Ankara’s present plans for its S-400s.

“These systems are used according to the threat situation. We decide that,” Akar informed Hurriyet.

Though referencing the Crete mannequin may sign flexibility on Ankara’s half, Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Ankara director for the German Marshall Fund, famous the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act — the CAATSA framework below which the United States sanctioned Turkey for its S-400 buy — didn’t exist on the time of the S-300 disaster.

Unluhisarcikli informed Al-Monitor {that a} potential settlement may hinge on whether or not or not Turkey’s S-400s stay operational.

“Does this mean Turkey will keep the S-400s boxed up, or does it mean Turkey is willing to turn them on and off?” Unluhisarcikli requested. “While the former is likely to lead to a solution the US may also agree to, the latter is unlikely to do so.”

The developments come after Erdogan stated in January that Turkish officers have been in ongoing discussions with Russian counterparts relating to the potential buy of a second batch of S-400s. 

It hasn’t helped that on Feb. 3, Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu accused the United States of supporting a 2016 coup try in Turkey. The US State Department condemned the assertion as “unfounded” the identical day.

Two days earlier than that trade, the Biden administration held its first name with an Turkish official. During a nearly one-hour dialogue, US nationwide safety adviser Jake Sullivan and Turkish presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin mentioned US-Turkish relations and pathways to “managing disagreements effectively,” based on a White House press launch.