Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar and his U.S. counterpart talked by phone late Friday about issues related to Turkey’s acquisition of a long-range missile defense system and recent developments in Syria.
Akar and Mark Esper discussed a wide range of issues.
Turkey’s acquisition of Russia’s S-400 missile defense system was “not a preference, but a necessity”, said Akar, adding Turkey is still evaluating a U.S. proposal to sell it the Patriot air defense system.
Following protracted efforts to procure an air defense system from the U.S. with no success, Ankara signed a contract in April 2017 to acquire the Russian S-400 system.
Later, the U.S. urged Turkey to buy its Patriot missile system, arguing that the Russian system would be incompatible with NATO systems. The U.S. also highlighted that its fifth-generation aircraft, the F-35, would be exposed to Russian subterfuge.
Turkey, however, emphasized that the S-400 would not be integrated into the NATO systems. Therefore, it would not pose any threat to the alliance.
Turkey has asked for the setting up of a commission to clarify technical issues, but the U.S. has so far failed to respond to the proposal.
Akar said Turkey’s stance on the F-35 fighter jet program had not changed and the country had fulfilled all its obligations so far.
“Deterioration of Turkish-U.S. ties serves neither Turkey, the U.S. nor NATO’s interests,” he added.
The Trump administration had threatened to expel Turkey and Turkish firms from the advanced F-35 fighter jet program over concerns that the Russian S-400 system could be used by Moscow to gain sensitive data on the jets.
During the phone conversation, the two ministers also discussed recent developments in war-torn Syria.
According to the Turkish Defense Ministry, Akar stressed that “the only military force that is ready, competent and appropriate for the establishment of a safe zone in northern Syria is the Turkish Armed Forces”.
“He reiterated that for Turkey, protection of its borders and people was the priority, and in the face of intensive attacks from the Syrian border, Turkey would have to take necessary measures and would not allow terrorist groups to seek safe havens right across its borders,” the ministry said.
Akar and Esper also agreed that dialogue between the two countries should be maintained and a U.S. military delegation should urgently be dispatched to Ankara next week to further the discussions on the safe zone in Syria, the statement added.
Turkey and Russia agreed last September to turn Idlib into a de-escalation zone in which acts of aggression are expressly prohibited.
The Syrian regime, however, has consistently broken the terms of the ceasefire, launching frequent attacks inside the zone.
Syria has only just begun to emerge from a devastating conflict that began in early 2011 when the Bashar al-Assad regime cracked down on demonstrators with unexpected severity.