Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said that Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400 missile system should not trigger United States (US) sanctions because Ankara remains committed to the NATO alliance, Reuters reported on Monday.
Akar spoke at a US-Turkey conference in Washington on Monday, after tensions built between the two NATO allies over Turkey’s plan to buy the Russian S-400 missile defense system, and strongly emphasized that there is no change in Ankara’s commitment to NATO.
“Turkey is clearly not an adversary of the US,” Akar said, urging that issues be resolved through dialogue.
He added that the purchase of the S-400 missile defense system should not, therefore, be considered within the scope of US sanctions designed to target enemies of the US.
Mike Pompeo, US Secretary of State, said last week that Washington had told Ankara it could face repercussions for buying the Russian S-400 system under a sanctions law known as Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CATSAA) that imposed sanctions on Iran, North Korea, and Russia.
The S-400 air defense system deal between Turkey and Russia, signed in 2017, has caused ongoing friction between Ankara and Washington, as the latter expressed strong disapproval of the deal.
In March, the US said they want Turkey to remain in the F-35 fighter jet program but added that they needed the Turkish government to buy the Patriot air defense system and not the S-400.
The delivery of F-35 fighter jet equipment to Turkey was halted by the US two weeks ago, in an attempt to make Ankara cancel its S-400 purchase.
“We firmly believe that linking the S-400 to the F-35 project is unfortunate. We are one of the investors and partners, and not just a buyer,” Akar stated on Monday.
He also repeated Turkey’s offer to hold technical talks with the US to address “technical concerns” over the S-400 purchase.
The US, along with several NATO member countries that are part of the F-35 program, has said Turkey’s plan to buy the S-400s would compromise the security of the F-35 aircraft. They fear the radar on the missile defense system will have the ability to spot and track the F-35 fighter jet, making it less able to evade Russian weapons in the future.
“Recently, we received the restated offer for the Patriot. This offer is now on the table, we are studying it carefully,” Akar said, referring to a renewed offer from the US to buy the Patriot missile defense system.
The controversy over the F-35 is the latest of a series of diplomatic rows between the US and Turkey. The two NATO allies have been at odds with each other regarding Ankara’s demands that the US extradite Muslim cleric, Fethullah Gulen, as well as differences over Middle East policy and the war in Syria, and sanctions on Iran.
Turkey has said the Russian S-400s are set to arrive in July.
The Turkish government has purged hundreds of senior military staff serving at NATO in Europe and the US, including some of the armed forces’ best-trained officials, following a coup attempt on July 15, 2016.
The coup attempt, undertaken by a few thousand soldiers spearheaded by several warplanes from Turkish Air Forces, ended with the rebel soldiers’ surrender by the morning of 16 July due to the lack of support from the rest of the military and staunch resistance from the people.
People took to the streets after a call by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan via a video call aired on CNN Turk. Two hundred and fifty people were killed – one hundred and forty-five of them being civilians – according to government figures.
Then the head of the armed forces, Hulusi Akar, was held hostage at the Akinci air base around 50 km (30 miles) northwest of Ankara during the coup attempt but was eventually rescued, the Turkish government claims.
Parliament’s coup investigation commission, set up to probe the attempted coup, wrapped up its work on January 4, amid opposition criticism that the commission was ineffective and left many details of the coup attempt in the dark.
Commission members from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) had requested that Hulusi Akar, who was serving as the Chief of General Staff at the time, be summoned to testify to the commission. However, commission members from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) rejected the demand.
AKP’s refusal seemed suspicious as Akar was a key figure for understanding the details of the coup attempt. Erdogan appointed Akar as Turkey’s defense minister in July 2018, raising further questions regarding his role in the attempted coup.