Turkish-U.S. ties are seeing a positive momentum despite the efforts of outside actors to harm them, thanks to the constructive approaches of the two countries' leaders, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Thursday.
Responding to questions by journalists on his return from the U.S., Erdoğan said that although there are some circles that aim to damage the ties between the two countries, his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump is making a sincere effort to come up with solutions to the existing disagreements.
"I can say that Mr. Trump is sincerely trying to come up with solutions to the problems between the two countries that are respectful to the both sides and national interests. However, I can also say that some circles that are against Trump are trying hard to harm our relations," the president added. The president highlighted that the key to overcoming the differences in opinions is to have a healthy dialogue based on information and facts.
Erdoğan was in Washington D.C. for two days. During his visit to the NATO ally country, the president had a bilateral meeting with Trump, as well as side meetings with different delegations and U.S. senators. Regarding the content of their meetings in the U.S., Erdoğan said that the major topics were the developments in Syria, the withdrawal of the PKK's Syrian affiliate the People's Protection Units (YPG), the fight against Daesh, the establishment of the Syrian safe zone, the S-400 missile purchase, the NATO alliance and the presence of the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) in the U.S.
Booklets provided for senators, proving PKK, FETÖ crimes
Explaining that the booklets regarding the crimes of the FETÖ and PKK terrorists have been provided to U.S. senators during the meeting, Erdoğan said that a video also has been shown to both the senators and Trump.
"In my view, the biggest mood change after watching the video occurred in the president. He was touched quite a bit," he said. According to Erdoğan, however, the others are still trying to back the terrorists, especially Ferhat Abdi Şahin, code-named Mazloum Kobani, a senior PKK terrorist that is wanted by Turkey. The president added that they also presented a document prepared by the CIA that is full of evidence showing who Şahin really is.
Here is the video that was shown to President Trump and US senators by President Erdogan yesterday during their meeting at the White House.— Fahrettin Altun (@fahrettinaltun) November 14, 2019
The video details the massacres committed by the terrorist code named Mazloum Kobane. pic.twitter.com/KFexW9hvMy
Responding to a question as to whether or not he observed any change in the U.S. approach toward the FETÖ terrorists, Erdoğan said that he talked about the issue with the senators and saw that they are still not at the level that Turkey desires.
"We, once again, provided all the files that are full of legal evidence [against the FETÖ]. The dialogue between the justice ministries of the two countries still continues and will continue. We will follow the case as it goes," he said.
FETÖ has a considerable presence abroad, particularly in the U.S., including private schools that serve as a revenue stream for the terror group. The U.S. is home to a large community of Gülenists, including group leader Fetullah Gülen. Gülen has lived in self-imposed exile on a secluded compound in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania since 1999. The United States is the target of most extradition requests. Turkey has sent seven extradition requests for Gülen to Washington but has seen little progress in his extradition.
The president also said that one of the major topics during the meeting between the delegations was the trade volume between the two countries, where the aim is to reach a goal of $100 billion. The efforts to take advantage of the huge economic potential between the two NATO allies have been accelerated particularly after the meeting between Erdoğan and Trump at the G20 leaders summit in Osaka, Japan in late June. During the meeting, Trump proposed that both countries should aim for $100 billion in bilateral trade. The figure was revised up from the $75 billion target set by the two leaders in February.
Joint work to be established to find solution to S-400 crisis
Regarding the purchase of the S-400 missiles from Russia, Erdoğan said that despite having a strong army already, there is still room for improvement that necessitates the purchase of such defense systems.
"We have the second-biggest army in NATO and has strong ties with the U.S. Still, we need to diversify our defense sources for our national interests," he said, adding that he informed the U.S. that Turkey is still willing to buy the Patriots as well.
"Yet," he added, "it is not acceptable for us to remove the S-400 missiles completely while purchasing Patriots since it is a demand that is violating our sovereignty."
He further pointed out that when other NATO member countries, such as Greece, made similar purchases, no one, including the U.S., expressed any concerns. Currently, Greece has S-300 missiles purchased from Russia. Still, Erdoğan expressed that Turkey has a constructive attitude toward the process and offered to have a joint work at the level of defense ministers over coming up with a solution to the problem.
"They claim that S-400 missiles are not compatible with the F-35. Well, you already do not sell us the F-35 [so we don't have it]," said Erdoğan, questioning the absurdity in the U.S.' approach to the issue.
"I have reminded Mr. Trump that we are not the consumers of the F-35 program, but partners in it," Erdoğan said, adding that Turkey has already paid $1.4 billion of the $2.4 billion price of the F-35 jets. Still, according to Erdoğan, the U.S.', especially Trump's, attitude on the issue was much more positive and solution-focused than the previous meetings.
U.S. officials urged Turkey to buy U.S. Patriot missiles, arguing the Russian system would be incompatible with NATO systems, expose the F-35s to possible Russian subterfuge, and could trigger sanctions. Following protracted efforts to purchase an air defense system from the U.S. with no success, Ankara decided in 2017 to purchase the Russian S-400s. Turkey, however, emphasized the S-400 would not be integrated into NATO systems and would not pose a threat to the alliance.
The president reiterated that no matter what, it is not an option for Turkey to deactivate the S-400 missiles. Touching upon the importance of the bilateral ties with Russia, which is quite strategic for Turkey, Erdoğan said that there are lots of layers to the relations that should be considered when mentioning the purchase of S-400 missiles. He gave the examples of the matters of the natural gas, Turk Stream and tourism, saying that these cannot be overturned by cancelling S-400 purchase.
"Russia is currently our number one partner in tourism. Last year, 6.5 million tourists came from Russia. Maybe, this number will increase this year. We have the trade volume that is approaching to $30 billion. Last year it was $25 billion," Erdoğan continued his examples. He also recalled that NATO expressed approval over the S-400 purchase.
The president highlighted that both Russia and the U.S. are close allies of Turkey and the country is determined to keep the ties in this way.