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Turkey may tell US to withdraw from Incirlik Air Base, FM Çavuşoğlu says

Turkey will consider requesting that the U.S. withdraw from Incirlik Air Base if Washington imposes sanctions on Ankara, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said Wednesday.

In an exclusive interview on A Haber news channel, Çavuşoğlu highlighted that Turkey will consider all options if the U.S. imposes sanctions in response to the purchase of Russian-made S-400 missile defense systems.

Noting that the S-400 is not an attack but a defense system, Çavuşoğlu also said Russia may provide an alternative for the F-35 jets if the U.S. fails to sell them to Turkey.

After its protracted efforts to purchase U.S.-made Patriot missiles failed, Turkey acquired two batteries of the Russian-made S-400 air missile defense systems as part of a $2.5-billion deal inked in December 2017.

The deal caused tension between Ankara and Washington, which threatened sanctions on Turkey. U.S. President Donald Trump, however, has said he was not considering punitive measures.

The U.S. eventually suspended Turkey, a fellow NATO member, from its F-35 stealth fighter program, in which Turkey is a major manufacturer and buyer.

Washington argues the S-400 would be incompatible with NATO systems and expose the F-35 to possible Russian subterfuge.

Turkey, however, emphasized the S-400 would not be integrated into the NATO systems and would not pose a threat to the alliance, refusing to step back from the deal with Russia.

Regarding the issue of the Eastern Mediterranean, Çavuşoğlu said Turkey will continue to protect its interests.

“Nobody can carry out work on Turkey’s continental shelf (in the Eastern Mediterranean) without our authorization, we will block it if it happens,” he said.

Çavuşoğlu also said Turkey is ready to sit down at the table with Greece to resolve the Eastern Mediterranean issue with dialogue.

“We are not in favor of tensions, we are in favor of an approach that can guarantee the rights of both sides under international law,” he said.

The foreign minister also said Turkey may sign maritime pacts, similar to the one it recently signed with Libya, with all countries that have a coast on the Mediterranean, including Greece, Lebanon and Egypt, if the conditions are favorable.

Turkey and the internationally-recognized, U.N.-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) of Libya signed a memorandum of understanding on Nov. 27, which will prevent Greece, Israel, Egypt and the Greek Cypriot administration from acting without Turkey’s approval.

The deal enables Turkey to secure its rights in the Mediterranean while preventing any fait accompli maneuvers by other regional states.

According to the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, while a country is able to stretch its territorial waters only 12 nautical miles out to sea when it comes to the exclusive economic zone (EEZ), where it has the rights to fishing, mining and drilling, the area can extend for an additional 200 miles.

However, if the maritime distance between the two countries is less than 424 miles, a bilateral deal is needed to determine a mutually agreed-upon dividing line for their respective EEZs.

Turkey has the longest shoreline in the Eastern Mediterranean, making it a natural candidate for seeking reserves in the region in accordance with international law.

The presence of the Turkish Cypriot government in Northern Cyprus also strengthens Turkey’s hand. The country defends the rights of Turkish Cypriots in the region and insists that their consent is needed for any type of drilling activity.

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