Erdoğan to discuss buying US Patriot missiles with Trump

Published 13.09.2019 21:38
Updated 14.09.2019 11:45
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President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said he will discuss buying U.S. Patriot missiles with President Donald Trump this month.

Turkey's purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defense system, which followed unsuccessful attempts to purchase an air defense system from the United States, has raised tensions with its NATO ally that has warned Turkey that it will respond with sanctions.

Erdoğan told Reuters he had discussed buying Patriots in a phone call with Trump two weeks ago and would follow up when they meet at the United Nations General Assembly, which opens next week.

"I said no matter what package of ... S-400s we get, we can buy from you a certain amount of Patriots," Erdoğan told Reuters.

"But I said we have to see conditions that at least match up to the S-400s," Erdoğan said, adding that he was referring to the possibility of joint production and favorable lending terms.

"He (Trump) said: 'Are you serious?' I said: 'Yes'," Erdoğan said, adding that he told Trump they would discuss it in greater detail when they meet.

The Ankara-Moscow S-400 deal was inked in December 2017, when the parties signed a $2.5 billion agreement for two batteries of the S-400, which is Russia's most advanced long-range anti-aircraft missile system in use since 2007.

The 2017 contract with Russia followed lengthy efforts to purchase an air defense system from the U.S. with no success.

In recent months U.S. officials urged Turkey to buy U.S. Patriot missiles, arguing the Russian system would be incompatible with NATO systems and expose U.S. F-35 fighter jets to possible Russian subterfuge.

Turkey, however, emphasized the S-400 would not be integrated into NATO systems and would not pose a threat to the alliance.

Asked whether he would also ask Trump to prevent the U.S. Treasury imposing a fine on Turkey's Halkbank for violating U.S. sanctions on Iran, Erdoğan said he was confident they could avoid such a "mistake," citing what he said was "a different kind of trust" between the two men.

"In my opinion a country like the U.S.A. will not want to hurt its ally Turkey any more. This is not a rational behavior," he said in an interview at Dolmabahçe Palace complex on the Bosporus in Istanbul.

Erdoğan and Trump will also discuss plans to establish a safe zone along 450 km (280 miles) of Syrian border stretching from the Euphrates river to the Iraq border, a region controlled mainly by PKK terror group's Syrian branch People's Protection Units (YPG), which are backed by the U.S.

On Sunday the two countries launched joint military patrols in the area, but Erdoğan reiterated that Washington has dragged its feet in an operation to drive the YPG away from its border.

Turkey has warned it will act alone if the safe zone is not established this month, raising the prospect of a third Turkish military incursion into northern Syria to eliminate the terrorists.

"The peace corridor is the essential thing. We will not allow a terror corridor on our borders and we will take whatever steps are necessary on this subject," he said.

Ankara has long objected to U.S. support for the YPG, a group that terrorizes locals and poses a threat to Turkey. The PKK has killed over 40,000 people in Turkey -- including women, children and infant -- in its decades-long terror campaign.

"It is Turkey which is fighting with these terror groups... We are your partner in NATO. You give them the weapons for free that you will not sell for money to your NATO ally," he said, referring to U.S. arms supplies to the YPG.

"We are fed up with explaining this... I think Trump must understand us," Erdoğan said.

Russia and Iran back Bashar Assad against opposition groups who sought his overthrow in Syria. Turkey, the United States, and European and Arab allies have supported different opposition groups.

Assad has regained control of most territory lost in the early stages of the eight-year conflict and has vowed to retake every inch of Syria including the northwestern province of Idlib, where Syrian opposition and extremist groups hold sway.

Erdoğan reiterated a warning that Turkey would be forced to let Syrian refugees on its soil leave for Europe if Western nations did not provide greater support to Turkey and support its plans for a safe zone where Syrians could be settled.

"If you can't accept this business, we will open the gates. Let them go from there wherever they want," he said.

Establishing the zone 20 miles (32 km) inside northeast Syria would allow refugees in Turkey "to return to their lands, and allow for all their needs - from education, health, shelter - to be met. It will allow them to live on their own lands and break away from the tent life and container cities," he said.

Erdoğan said the financial aid Turkey was receiving from the European Union was not sufficient to ease the burden of 3.6 million Syrian refugees who have fled to Turkey since the civil war erupted in 2011.

Turkey has spent $40 billion hosting the Syrians. Ankara has reiterated that a deal with the EU to give 6 billion euros to support those efforts was not enough and too slow.

Erdoğan will host the presidents of Russia and Iran on Monday for talks that would focus on securing a lasting truce in Idlib, preventing a fresh refugee wave into Turkey, and asserting control over terrorists there, he said.

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