What next after Trump’s strong support to Turkey on S-400s?
Turkey will likely begin the delivery of the Russian S-400 air defense systems in the coming weeks, if not days, as announced by both Turkish and Russian officials. A group of Turkish military personnel had already been trained in Russia for the use of these systems and a Russian delegation had reportedly conducted on-site examinations in areas where these systems could be deployed. So, the Turkish-Russian side of the S-400 story is running in its own course without delays or major problems.
The Turkish-American dimension of the same story, however, is still full of uncertainties and vagueness, even after the much-anticipated meeting between President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and U.S. President Donald Trump in Osaka over the weekend.
It was for the first time on June 29 that Trump disclosed his opinions and assessments about the months-long S-400/F-35 crisis with Turkey in public. First, we heard “the dealer Trump” speaking, as he criticized the Obama administration for not selling the Patriot systems to Turkey. “So he buys the other missile and then, all of a sudden, they say, ‘Well, you can now buy our missile.’ You don’t — you can’t do business that way. It’s not good. It’s not good,” Trump said.
“Turkey was treated unfairly” was another message of his. It was perhaps one of the strongest descriptions of this dispute and Trump did not hesitate to express this in public and in the presence of his entire team which includes people with the most hawkish views.
The characterization of this issue by Trump has surely relieved the entire Turkish delegation. After the meeting, Erdoğan rightly reiterated his expectation that no sanctions will be imposed on Turkey and the process will go smoothly. Erdoğan and Trump have also agreed on the latter’s state visit to Turkey this year and to chair a business council meeting in line with a joint objective of increasing the bilateral trade to $75 billion.
Trump’s answers to insistent questions on whether or not sanctions will be imposed on Turkey reflected his status as U.S. president. Although he stood with Erdoğan on the main reasons for this dispute and blamed the previous U.S. administration, he could not simply rule out sanctions.
“We’re looking at it,” he responded when asked if sanctions will be slapped or not. He was also quoted as saying: “We’re looking at different solutions. It’s a problem, there’s no question about it. We’re looking at different solutions.”
As president, Trump has the authority to waive the initial application of sanctions or to delay the imposition of sanctions for 180 days under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act. Politically, it will be extremely difficult for Trump to resort to either way but he can pick up the five lightest items of 12 sanctions. Time and Trump’s ability will show whether he can sort it out without turning the S-400 problem with Turkey into an internal matter.
But Turkey’s expectation is not limited to the S-400s. It also seeks to avoid any sanctions from the executive and reverse the earlier decision on the F-35s. The two presidents seem to have agreed on delegating defense and foreign ministers to continue to work on this issue.
After Trump’s move, the ball is in the U.S.’s court. His unexpected support to Turkey pledges to de-escalate tension in the short-term but he should be able to be on the same line. Turkey has now all the right to expect from Trump to correct the mistakes of the past and find a way to resolve this issue without hurting the Turkish economy and the defense industry.