US President Donald Trump on Wednesday told Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan that his country’s purchase of a Russian missile defense system was a “very serious challenge” for the United States but that he hoped the NATO allies would be able to resolve that dispute.
After a much anticipated meeting at the White House to address a crisis in relations, Trump said he was “a great fan” of the Turkish leader and that they had a “wonderful and productive” encounter.
They did not, however, reveal any major breakthrough on mounting differences, from Syria to the Russian system known as S-400.
Trump’s warm welcome for Erdogan, however, was a sharp contrast to anger in the US Congress over Ankara’s offensive into Syria to drive out a Kurdish militia, Washington’s main partner in the fight against ISIS
Trump brought in five Republican senators to the White House to speak with Erdogan about the Syrian Kurds and the delivery of S-400s, which prompted Washington to remove Turkey from the F-35 fighter jet program, in which Ankara was a manufacturer and buyer.
“Turkey’s acquisition of sophisticated Russian military equipment, such as the S-400, creates some very serious challenges for us and we are talking about it constantly,” Trump told a joint news conference.
“We talked about it today, we’re talking about it in the future, hopefully we’ll be able to resolve that situation.”
Minutes after their news conference, the White House released a statement using firmer language. “In order to achieve progress on other fronts, it is vital that we resolve the issues involving Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400 air defense system, strengthening our defense partnership,” it said.
Turkey and the United States have been at loggerheads over the purchase of the S-400 system, which the United States says is not compatible with NATO defenses and poses a threat to Lockheed Martin’s F-35 ‘stealth’ fighter jet.
Turkey had shrugged off threats of US sanctions and began receiving its first S-400 deliveries in July. To punish Turkey for its purchase, the United States has banned sales of F-35s to Turkey and removed the country from a multinational program to produce the warplane.
“We’ve asked our secretary of state and minister of foreign affairs and our respective national security advisers to immediately work on resolving the S-400 issue,” Trump said.
Erdogan said that the two countries could only overcome their dispute on the S-400s and F-35s through dialogue. “We have agreed to open a new page in our relationship,” he said.
The NATO allies, who boast the two largest armies in the alliance, have been at loggerheads for months now and their ties hit a new crisis point last month when Erdogan began his cross-border incursion against America’s Kurdish allies in Syria and upended the US presence there.
Turkey shrugged off threats of US sanctions and began receiving its first S-400 deliveries in July, but so far, the United States has not imposed any sanctions.
In the news conference, Erdogan was critical of the US Congress, particularly of a House of Representatives vote last month in favor of a non-binding resolution recognizing the killings of 1.5 million Armenians a century ago as a genocide, a symbolic but historic vote denounced by Turkey.