Turkey will not turn back from Russian S-400s: Erdogan’s spokesman

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Military vehicles and equipment, parts of the S-400 air defense systems, are unloaded from a Russian transport aircraft, at Murted military airport in Ankara, Turkey, Friday, July 12, 2019. The first shipment of a Russian missile defense system has arrived in Turkey, the Turkish Defense Ministry said Friday, moving the country closer to possible U.S. sanctions and a new standoff with Washington. The U.S. has strongly urged NATO member Turkey to pull back from the deal, warning the country that it will face economic sanctions. (Turkish Defence Ministry via AP, Pool)

ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey will not turn back from its acquisition of Russian S-400 defense systems despite U.S. sanctions, it said on Thursday, but added it would seek to resolve issues with its NATO ally through dialogue.

In December, Washington imposed sanctions on Ankara for acquiring the S-400s on grounds they threaten its F-35 fighter jets and are incompatible with shared NATO defences. Turkey rejects this and says the systems will stand independently from NATO defences.

Since Joe Biden was elected U.S. president, Ankara has said it wants better ties and again proposed an S-400 joint working group. But Washington has repeatedly rejected that and says sanctions will remain until Turkey no longer possesses the missiles.

Turkey’s defense minister said on Tuesday that Ankara would propose only partially activating the S-400s in negotiations with the United States, according to local media.

Speaking in an interview with state broadcaster TRT Haber, presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said the minister’s comments had been misunderstood, but did not elaborate, adding talks were being held with Washington over disagreements, but that quick solutions to problems should not be expected.

“The United States has so far said it will not engage in any negotiations over this issue (S-400s). Turkey will not turn back from the Russian S-400 issue,” Kalin said.

“When we read the strategic picture the right way, we think we can make advances,” he said. “By proposing solution ways, we will be in negotiations,” he added, without elaborating.

The United States has also removed Turkey from its F-35 jet programme, where Ankara was manufacturer and buyer, over the S-400s in mid-2019.

Turkey has said its purchase of the S-400s was a necessity, as it had no suitable alternatives from NATO allies.

In a phone call last week that marked the first official contact between the allies since Biden took office, Kalin told U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan the S-400 dispute needed resolving.

On Thursday, Kalin said he and Sullivan had agreed to hold another call in the coming days to specifically discuss their disagreements, adding that the two countries’ foreign ministers would also speak in the coming days.

The allies are odds over several issues, from the S-400s to Turkey’s extradition request for a cleric it blames for a 2016 failed coup attempt, Syria policy, and an Iran sanctions-busting case against Turkish state lender Halkbank.

Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Toby Chopra

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