Rejecting U.S. pressure, Turkey once again reiterated its commitment to honoring the deal to purchase S-400 air defense systems from Russia and ruled out the possibility of deploying them anywhere outside Turkish territories.
Ankara rejected claims of the possible sale of S-400 missile systems to a third-party country, reiterating its strong commitment to the deal to purchase Russian-made systems.
“It is a done deal. We are committed to the agreement. There is no possibility to sell it to a third country,” Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said on Friday in the Mediterranean province of Antalya with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov. The two ministers came together after the 7th Turkish-Russian Joint Strategic Planning Group Meeting where they discussed bilateral relations as well as current regional developments.
Çavuşoğlu emphasized that the world should see that Washington’s bullying policies are not prevailing and that the deal was completed before the introduction of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which came into effect in July 2017, to be imposed on companies or countries doing business with Iran, Russia and North Korea.
The U.S. has been attempting to push Turkey to reappraise its S-400 decision, pointing out that its step would trigger CAATSA sanctions. Another contentious issue for the purchase is that the U.S. stresses that they will reassess Ankara’s participation in the F-35 fighter jet program and other potential future arms transfers to Turkey.
U.S. Senators James Lankford, Jeanne Shaheen, Thom Tillis and Chris van Hollen on Thursday introduced a bipartisan bill to prohibit the transfer of F-35 aircraft from the U.S. to Turkey until the U.S. government certifies that Ankara will not take delivery of the Russian S-400 system, a statement said. Lankford, Shaheen and Tillis were the three-men-team that championed the blocking of delivery F-35 fighter jets to Turkey last year because of the imprisonment of pastor Andrew Brunson.
Turkey has been receiving contradictory statements from the United States, Çavuşoğlu said, adding that Ankara has met all its obligations related to the F-35s, which are made by Lockheed Martin.
Turkey is a production partner in the trillion dollar F-35 fighter jet program, but Ankara also wants to purchase a Russian missile defense system, which the United States says would compromise the security of F-35 aircraft.
Turkey is the sole provider of the panoramic cockpit display and the missile remote interface unit of the F-35. As warned by members of his own administration, U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to act in bad faith toward the U.S. NATO ally could backfire, as Turkey holds a valuable stake in the production of the F-35 jets.
A tit-for-tat dispute over the F-35s could leave the U.S. and all other parties with stakes in the F-35 program short-suited, a much costlier bet than the $12 billion profit expected by participating Turkish firms.
In December 2017, Ankara agreed to buy two Russian-made S-400s in a deal worth over $2 billion. Turkish officials have repeatedly said that the purchase of the S-400 systems was made to fulfill the country’s security needs. With the purchase of the S-400s, Ankara aims to boost its defense capabilities amid threats from the PKK and Daesh terrorists at home and conflicts across its borders in Syria and Iraq.
Turkey, Russia in agreement on U.S.’ Golan decision
In relation to the U.S.’ recent decision to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over Golan Heights, the plateau that Israel seized from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War, both ministers said that Ankara and Moscow do not recognize this decision because it is against international law and U.N. resolutions.
Çavuşoğlu noted that the decision does not contribute to regional stability and peace, but instead could possibly create unrest and chaos in the region.
Trump signed a decree on Monday recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights despite international criticism.
The decision sparked global outcry as many countries, including European states, raised concerns about the consequences of recognizing illegal annexation and the broader regional consequences.
Members of the Security Council collectively recognized Trump’s decision as a unilateral move that violates international law and U.N. Security Council resolutions that the U.S. has previously supported.
“This is against international law. All kinds of international law were violated and broken,” Lavrov said regarding the decision.
Touching on enhancing bilateral ties, Çavuşoğlu noted that Turkey welcomes the increasing number of Russian tourists visiting Turkey and that at Friday’s meeting they discussed the visa issue between the two countries.
Ankara expects visas to be lifted
Çavuşoğlu said Turkey expects Russia to remove the visa requirement for Turkish citizens. “Our expectation is the complete removal of visas for our citizens. We discussed which steps we can take regarding this and also we will continue to work on this issue together,” Çavuşoğlu said.
Çavuşoğlu indicated that Russian President Vladimir Putin had signed a decree to lift visa requirements for Turkish service passport holders and truck drivers traveling to Russia. Furthermore, Turkish citizens with special passports on short-term business trips, including those to diplomatic missions and consular offices, as well as professional drivers transporting international cargo will be able to benefit from the new rules.
YPG threatens Turkey, Russia and Syria
The Turkish foreign minister underscored that the presence of PKK-affiliated People’s Protection Units (YPG) in the region pose a threat to Turkey, Russia and Syria since the terrorist organization has long been signaling their autonomy plans by dividing Syria.
Pointing out that the U.S.-led coalition has encouraged the YPG in their endeavors to set up an autonomous administration, Çavuşoğlu stressed that the terrorist organization should not fill the power vacuum created by the U.S. pullout from the region.
The close U.S. partnership with the YPG since President Barack Obama’s administration has been a sticking point in Washington-Ankara relations. Turkey sees the YPG as an extension of the PKK, which has claimed the lives of more than 40,000 people. The U.S., however, while listing the PKK as a terrorist group, is maintaining its steadfast military support for the YPG terrorist organization, by providing truckloads of military supplies and military training under the pretext of fighting Daesh. Russia also previously declared that it would oppose any idea threatening Syria’s territorial integrity, including the YPG’s autonomy plans.
Noting that Washington has promised to retrieve the weapons provided to the terrorist organization, Çavuşoğlu emphasized that remarks coming from the White House have changed and began to suggest that they cannot retrieve all of the weapons. He added that the YPG and its affiliates sold the majority of the weapons, which were later transferred to terrorists in Turkey.
One of Turkey’s top concerns is whether the U.S. will take back the weapons and ammunition it gave to the YPG during the withdrawal as it has pledged. Turkey says the weapons are ultimately transferred to the PKK, which has been waging a terror campaign against Turkey for the last 40 years.
Touching upon the planned 32-kilometer-deep safe zone in northern Syria along the Turkish-Syrian border, Çavuşoğlu said that negotiations between Ankara and Washington are ongoing. Yet, he noted that Turkey also coordinates with Russia on the same matter in line with their mutual respect for the territorial integrity of Syria.