WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan24) – Senior Turkish officials returned home on Tuesday with no evident sign of progress in resolving their country’s dispute with the US over its purchase of the advanced Russian air defense system, the S-400.
Figures like Treasury and Finance Minister Berat Albayrak put a positive spin on their talks, but no equivalent language was voiced by US officials.
Albayrak, who is the son-in-law of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, met on Monday with President Donald Trump, along with Jared Kushner, senior adviser to the President and his son-in-law, as well as Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.
Trump “listened in a very reasonable way with a positive understanding to the process regarding Turkey’s needs for the S-400s,” Albayrak claimed. “There was a very positive, constructive conversation.”
But the White House has said nothing. It issued no read-out of the unusual meeting (protocol would dictate that Trump meets heads of state—not ministers), and no one other individual present has commented publicly.
Nonetheless, Ibrahim Kalin, Special Advisor to the Turkish president who was also in Washington, re-affirmed Ankara’s intent to proceed with the acquisition of the Russian missile system. As Kalin told reporters on Tuesday, Turkey is asking for a waiver from the law known as CAATSA (Combating America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act), that would impose sanctions on Ankara for the purchase of the S-400.
“We expect President Trump to use the power he has to intervene on that issue,” Kalin said.
Asked if Trump had agreed to a waiver, Kalin replied, “I cannot say that he did. This is a message we are conveying,” adding that Trump had told Erdogan he would “personally try to find a way to resolve the issue.”
Kalin also described Ankara’s disagreement with Washington over its partnership with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF.) Turkey considers the Kurdish component—the People’s Protection Units (YPG)—a terrorist organization, the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK.)
Kalin said the US and Turkey were “making progress” in talks about a “safe zone” in northeastern Syria, but “the US needs to have a change of course there because we don’t need the PYD/YPG to establish peace and security in any part of Syria.”
Turkish Defense Minister, Hulusi Akar, was also part of the Turkish delegation, and he met Acting Secretary of Defense, Patrick Shanahan on Tuesday. The terse US summary of their discussion reveals little.
The two men “met as strategic partners,” Acting Chief Pentagon Spokesperson, Charles Summers, said. Their discussion focused “on interests, rather than positions, and on the importance of U.S.-Turkish cooperation bilaterally and as NATO allies.”
A statement from Turkey’s Defense Ministry, however, hinted at significant differences, explaining that Akar had “reiterated Turkey’s views and expectations on the proposed safe zone in Syria, S-400 procurement, F-35 aircraft and latest developments in the Eastern Mediterranean.”
Although no senior US officials have, so far, commented publicly on these talks, their most recent statements about US relations with Turkey have been harsh.
Earlier this month, on the sidelines of a NATO Foreign Ministers’ Conference, Vice-President Mike Pence warned Ankara against purchasing the S-400. “Turkey must choose,” he said. “Does it want to remain a critical partner in the most successful military alliance in history, or does it want to risk the security of that partnership by making reckless decisions that undermine our alliance?”
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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu during the NATO Conference and warned “of the potentially devastating consequences of unilateral Turkish military action” in northeastern Syria. Although Cavusoglu disputed the US summary of their meeting, Pompeo pointedly affirmed its accuracy.
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A former Turkish parliamentarian and now a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Dr. Aykan Erdemir noted that “Turkish officials had made a flurry of announcements in Washington, painting a rosy picture in relations with the US.”
The main aim of such statements, he suggested, was “to calm global investors who are increasingly worried about the growing likelihood of US sanctions against Turkey.” However, beyond the short term, Erdemir saw little prospect of success, short of Ankara actually changing its policy.
Moscow has been increasingly open about its desire to consummate the S-400 deal with Turkey. When Erdogan visited Moscow some ten days ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed advancing the delivery of the missile system from July to June, an offer Ankara has apparently accepted.
On Sunday, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov hailed Erdogan’s continued determination to purchase the S-400 as a rare example of a “sovereign and independent” policy.
On Friday, an op-ed appeared in the Russian website, Republic. On Monday, it appeared, translated into English, in The Moscow Times. It is entitled, “Our Man in NATO: Why Putin Lucked Out With Recep Erdogan.”
“Without firing a single shot, deploying a single tank or using a single internet troll, Moscow can soon destroy the unity of NATO by removing a key country from its military network,” it states.
Most likely, Putin has multiple objectives in cultivating his relationship with Erdogan. And it is likely that undermining NATO’s cohesion and unity is high among them—just as that Russian op-ed suggests.
Editing by Nadia Riva