NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Tuesday that there is no angst over Ankara signing a deal for an S-400 air defense system with Russia since it was a sovereign decision, adding that he had talked it through with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Speaking to Reuters in an interview, Stoltenberg said Turkey is also in talks with France and Italy to buy similar weapons.
“I spoke with President Erdoğan when I met him in September. I said that the kind of capabilities different nations want to acquire is a national decision,” he said of the S-400 system that Turkey has made an advance payment for and hopes to see delivered in 2019.
Underling that top Turkish officials as well as Erdoğan had told him Ankara remained a strong NATO ally, Stoltenberg said Ankara was ready to brief its allies in the US-led 29-member bloc on the reasons behind its decision to buy the S-400 system.
He also added that Erdoğan told him Turkey was in dialogue with France and Italy on the possible delivery of air defense systems.
He did not give more details but said Turkey was familiar with the so-called SAMP-T missiles because Italy had stationed them in Turkey as part of NATO efforts to help protect Ankara from rocket attacks.
Early in September, Ankara signed a deal with Russia to buy the S-400 missile defense system despite opposition from NATO allies. Erdoğan criticized those questioning Turkey buying the system and suggested Ankara would make its own decisions on what to buy, regardless of NATO’s wishes.
Pentagon spokesman Johnny Michael said the US had relayed its concerns to Turkish officials over the purchase of the S-400 from Russia.
Moscow confirmed the agreement, with Vladimir Kozhin, Putin’s adviser for military and technical cooperation, saying, “The contract has been signed and is being prepared for implementation.”