Trump wants to sell US missiles to Turkey instead of Russia
The Donald Trump administration is examining ways to “boost the Turkish air defense system” to convince President Tayyip Erdoğan not to buy S-400 missile systems from Russia, according to a report by Hürriyet Daily News’s Sevil Erkuş, in reference to a U.S. administration official who asked not to be named. The official said alternatives were being discussed during U.S. State Secretary Rex Tillerson’s visit to Ankara on Feb. 15-16, without giving further details.
Reports concerning Trump’s intention to find ways of bypassing Congress limitations on arms sales have already circulated the U.S. media. According to a Jan. 11 article in the Washington Times, U.S. defense giants such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Raytheon have been forced to look for new markets challenged by “less regulated competitors” from China, Russia and Israel, which can deliver a wider range of products in short time. U.S. defense companies want to keep their dominant position in the arms markets without being slowed down or hampered by political considerations imposed by Congress, according to media reports. Reuters recently reported that the White House was working on a plan to overhaul the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) in an interagency effort with the Pentagon, State Department and Commerce Department.
The idea seems to treat certain weapons systems under internal competition as commercial items.
The question is whether it will cover the sale of Patriot missile systems to Turkey. Facing down criticism from the U.S. because of the Turkish decision to buy Russian S-400 air defense missiles, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said the U.S. Administration had not been prepared to sell the Patriot missile systems to Turkey. He also said Turkey had not been able to buy a couple of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) from the U.S. because of obstacles posed by Congress, and thanks to that the country was able to develop and produce its own UAVs and armed UAVs, which are currently being used in anti-terror operations in Syria by the Turkish military.
While planning to buy the Russian missile systems, to be delivered by 2020, Turkey is working with French and Italian companies to jointly produce NATO interoperable Aster-30 EuroMissle systems in medium run.
There is another issue regarding U.S. arms sales to Turkey, which could be problematic for the Trump Administration. According to the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), the Administration can cut arms sales and cooperation with companies doing business with Russian defense and intelligence firms. Although Turkey is not specifically mentioned in the Act, it is open to interpretation due to commercial links between Turkish companies and Russian companies. But Turkey is also a partner in big NATO projects, such as the joint production of a new generation of F-35 jet fighters, together with the U.S., U.K., Italy, Canada, Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands.
This is one of the major bilateral issues between Turkey and the U.S. Another is U.S. cooperation in Syria against the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) with the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the Syrian extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been designated a terrorist group by both Turkey and the U.S. Then there is the issue of the U.S. residence of Fethullah Gülen, the Islamist preacher widely believed to have been behind the 2016 military coup attempt in Turkey.
If Trump is able to overcome the problem of Turkey purchasing S-400s, the U.S. would take an important step for bettering relations between the two NATO members and also score a win against Vladimir Putin’s Russia.