Turkey will use S-400s, open to consider Patriot offer: Official
The official's remarks came after talks between President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump. The leaders on Nov. 13 held talks in Washington on many bilateral issues as well as regional and global matters. Turkey's procurement of the Russian defense systems was among the top items on the meeting's agenda.
Trump urged Erdoğan at the White House to drop the S-400 systems, but Erdoğan said Ankara could not harm its relations with Russia, one of its main partners.
The Turkish president also reiterated Turkey’s desire to buy U.S. Patriot defenses in addition to the S-400s.
Tensions rose between Ankara and Washington when the former decided the acquire the S-400s. While U.S. says the Russian system poses a threat to its F-35 fighter jets, Turkey has repeatedly said the procurement will not be a problem for the program.
Washington has warned that Ankara will face sanctions over its purchase of the S-400s, and has suspended Turkey from the F-35 program, in which it was a customer and manufacturer.
It has yet to impose any sanctions on Turkey, which began receiving the Russian systems in July.
In an interview with private broadcaster CNN Türk, İsmail Demir said it was not logical for any country to purchase such systems only to put them aside, and added that Ankara and Washington aimed to tackle the issue.
“It is not a correct approach to say ‘we won’t use them for their sake’ about a system that we bought out of necessity and paid so much money for,” Demir said.
Regarding the argument that the S-400 systems and F-35 fighter jets cannot exist together, Demir said Turkey has taken the necessary precautions.
"We say it will not be a problem and that we have taken the necessary measures. We say [to U.S. officials] 'you do not know our precautions, let's talk about these and discuss if you have any information that is cause for concern'," he said.
Demir said that air defense is an "umbrella" and Turkey's first tender included four systems.
"Right now, we purchased two systems but even four systems would provide a very partial coverage," he said. He added that Ankara's works on developing indigenous systems proceed.
"We are open to considering a Patriot offer. If an offer comes and the conditions are suitable for us, of course, the Patriot system can be considered," he said.
Demir added that a problem will not occur if both systems exist simultaneously.
“We have allied relations with Russia and the United States. We have to go on and respect the agreements we signed,” he said.
In the meantime, Turkish presidential spokesperson on Nov. 15 said that Turkey and U.S. have kicked off talks to resolve their differences in the military sector.
In an interview aired on public broadcaster TRT, İbrahim Kalın said the talks will be carried out at the bilateral level and not under NATO's supervision.
“The two presidents appointed me and [U.S. National Security Advisor] Robert O’Brien at the White House meeting. We are starting to work on it as I speak,” said Kalın.
“S-400 system can be used independently without being integrated into NATO defense system,” he added.
Kalın also said Russian President Vladimir Putin was expected to visit Ankara in the first half of January.
“There might be a ceremony for the completion of the Turk Stream project. Also, bilateral relations and regional issues will be discussed,” he added.
Ankara, Washington talks show easing in US position
Demir said the move showed an easing in the position of the United States, and added that Turkey was ready to take measures that will address U.S. concerns over the S-400s after the talks.
“As a loyal friend and ally, we have said we were ready to take measures if there are any risks that we have overlooked on this issue,” Demir said. “We still believe we can find a middle ground on the S-400 issue, so long as both sides are open.”
Demir also said Turkish personnel were continuing their training on the S-400s in Russia, but added that there would be no Russian personnel coming to Turkey to operate the systems.