US must choose between Turkey and terrorists, Vice President Oktay says

DAILY SABAH WITH WIRES
ISTANBUL
Published 03.04.2019 21:38
Updated 04.04.2019 16:52
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The U.S. must choose between remaining Turkey's ally and siding with terrorists, Vice President Fuat Oktay said Wednesday.

"The United States must choose. Does it want to remain Turkey's ally or risk our friendship by joining forces with terrorists to undermine its NATO ally's defense against its enemies?" Oktay said on Twitter.

Oktay's remarks came in response to U.S. Vice President Mike Pence after he urged Turkey on Wednesday not to buy a Russian S-400 anti-missile system, keeping up the pressure on its NATO ally to abandon the purchase that Washington considers a threat to U.S. military equipment.

"Turkey must choose. 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 such reckless decisions that undermine our alliance?" Pence said in remarks at a NATO event in Washington.

The United States is at an inflection point in a yearslong standoff with Turkey, a NATO ally, after failing to sway President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that buying a Russian air defense system would compromise the security of F-35 aircraft.

But President Erdoğan has refused to back down from Ankara's planned purchase of Russian S-400 missile defense system and said Turkey will take delivery of the S-400s in July.

Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu also stressed that Ankara does not have to choose between Russia and other countries during his address at the NATO meeting.

"The purchase from Russia is a done deal," Çavuşoğlu said at a panel organized by the Atlantic Council, Turkey's Role in NATO and Regional Security Challenges, in Washington where foreign ministers of NATO members came together for the 70th anniversary of the security bloc. "We are not choosing between Russia and any other allies. We don't see our relations with Russia as an alternative to our relations with others. And nobody, neither the West nor Russia, should or can ask us to choose."

The minister said Turkey has proposed to the United States that they form a technical working group to determine that Russian S-400 missile defense systems do not pose a threat to U.S. or NATO military equipment.

Turkey's foreign minister arrived in Washington the same week the U.S. announced it would suspend all "deliveries and activities" related to Turkey's procurement of F-35 jets because of Ankara's plans to purchase Russia's S-400 surface-to-air missile (SAM) system.

On Monday, the Pentagon said it had suspended the delivery of equipment related to the stealthy F-35 fighter jet "pending an unequivocal Turkish decision to forgo delivery of the S-400."

If the Pentagon takes the next step and removes Turkey from the F-35 program, it would be the most serious crisis in the relationship between the two allies in decades.

On Tuesday, acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said that he expected to resolve the dispute with Turkey, as he expressed optimism that both countries would find a way out of the crisis by persuading Turkey to purchase the Patriot defense system, instead of S-400s.

"I've had a number of conversations with Defense Minister (Hulusi) Akar and I really think we'll resolve this situation with our strategic partners," he said.

"I am very confident in the Patriot proposal that we've delivered to Turkey, its availability, it's pricing, and very importantly, the industrial participation that comes along with the Patriot system."

Shanahan added that he expected the United States to ultimately carry out the delivery of F-35s currently at Luke Air Force base to Turkey, after resolving the dispute. Turkish pilots are receiving training on two aircraft at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona.

Turkey has remained unfazed in the face of threats from the U.S., with many officials repeatedly stressing that the S-400 deal is not a threat to NATO systems and is not on the table to be used as a bargaining chip against F-35 jets and Patriot negotiations

Last week, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu met in Turkey with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, and insisted that the S-400 purchase would go ahead.

The United States and other NATO allies that own F-35s fear the radar on the Russian S-400 missile system will learn how to spot and track the jet, making it less able to evade Russian weapons in the future.

Ankara's decision to resort to the Russian-made SAM system is the result of a comprehensive calculation of geopolitical risks compelling the country to look for alternatives to strengthen its defense systems after the U.S. refused to sell similar weapons to Turkey. When Turkey wanted to the buy the Patriot missile system from the U.S. in 2009 during then-President Barack Obama's term, the U.S. Congress declined the offer for the sale of the Patriot PAC-3 batteries worth $7.8 billion at the time. Though not selling the missile systems to its NATO allies, Washington continued to provide extensive arms support to terror groups in Syria that have continuously attacked Turkey and claimed hundreds of lives.

The U.S. military has sent thousands of truckloads of weapons to militants of the PKK's Syrian affiliate, the People's Protection Units (YPG), including heavy weapons, under the pretext of fighting Daesh, defying Ankara's warnings that the weapons could eventually be transferred to PKK militants and used against the Turkish army.

The U.S. is ramping up efforts to increase its military and diplomatic presence in the region, including Syria, Iraq and the Eastern Mediterranean, to safeguard the interests of its regional allies, particularly Israel. Therefore, U.S. ambitions in the region, which do not take into consideration the interests of its NATO ally Turkey, constitute the fundamentals of the conflict between the two countries.

For the first time, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also attended the 6th Trilateral Greece-Greek Cyprus-Israel Summit held last month in Jerusalem. Turkish officials previously warned that Ankara would never allow attempts to extort natural resources in the Eastern Mediterranean region without due consideration of the rights of Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC).

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