During an interview with the pro-government HaberTürk news outlet on Thursday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan claimed that his US counterpart, Donald Trump, had found Ankara’s planned purchase of Russian S-400 missile defense systems justified, the Ahval news website reported.
Erdoğan had most recently discussed the purchase last week, when he firmly stated that the deal would move forward despite warnings of “grave consequences” from US officials.
If true, Trump’s assurances to Erdoğan that he had “made the right decision” with the S-400 purchase contradict the efforts of US Department of State and military officials as well as those from the NATO alliance who fear the installation of a Russian system in a NATO country would harm defense inter-operability and could compromise sensitive data on new generation F-35 fighter jets.
US officials have said deliveries of the F-35 jets to Turkey should be cancelled if Ankara goes ahead with the Russian purchase, and acting US Secretary of Defense Kathryn Wheelbarger said on Wednesday Turkey could buy the US Patriot system as an alternative – but only if it cancels the S-400 deal.
However, Erdoğan justified the deal with Russia by saying Turkey still faced threats from Syria, where Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime downed a Turkish reconnaissance jet in 2012. Erdogan also suggested Assad’s military is also equipped with the S-400 system.
The Turkish president also repeated his earlier complaints that a previous request to purchase Patriots from the United States had been turned down by the US Congress.
“After Russia made a positive approach on the matter, we took decisive steps,” Erdoğan said. Moscow has also responded positively in talks on the issues of credit and interest for the purchase, which is worth a reported $2.5 billion, he added.
Erdoğan said Moscow had also agreed to joint production of the S-400s with Turkey. Though the president has frequently spoken of joint production, no evidence supporting this has so far been made available to the public. The Russians have not confirmed this claim, either.
“This deal is done, there’s no possibility of turning back now,” Erdoğan said, adding that the planned delivery of the missile defense system has been brought forward to July.
Erdoğan said he had conveyed to Trump the reasons for the S-400 purchase and had been told by the US president over the phone recently that he was “justified” in the purchase. Erdoğan and Trump have had several calls in recent months.
The Turkish president said he would still be open to discussing joint production and financial incentives for a deal to buy the US Patriot system but that this would not halt the delivery of the Russian systems.
Erdoğan did not discuss the issue of the F-35 fighter jets, despite questions from the HaberTürk presenters, and also avoided discussing northern Syria, where Ankara has been pressing for the creation of a Turkish-administered “safe zone” to prevent conflict with Kurdish militias after Trump’s planned withdrawal of US troops.