Trump wants to solve 'Obama-made' S-400 crisis 'without harming US-Turkey ties'
US President Donald Trump, blaming former President Barack Obama for the crisis, told his Turkish counterpart that he wanted the issue of Ankara's procurement of Russian air defence systems to be resolved without harming ties between the two countries, the Turkish presidency said on Saturday.
Tensions between Turkey and the United States have risen over Ankara's purchase of Russian S-400 defence systems.
Washington has urged Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to step back from the purchase, warning that if Ankara goes forward, it will forfeit its place in the F-35 fighter jet program lest it compromise NATO's defence network.
Acting US Defense Secretary Mark Esper made it clear on Wednesday that Turkey will face economic sanctions if it goes ahead with the purchase.
Turkey has repeatedly dismissed those warnings, saying it would not turn back from the deal.
In a statement following talks by the two premiers on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Japan, the Turkish presidency said Erdogan had told Trump he had concerns that US actions may harm the strategic partnership between the two NATO allies.
Despite US opposition, Turkey on Saturday said it had made no changes in its plan to buy the S-400 missile defense systems.
Trump reportedly expressed sympathy for Ankara’s position, calling the situation "complicated".
The US president said the tensions over the S-400s were "not really Erdogan's fault", blaming former President Barack Obama for placing conditions on Turkey's purchase of US Patriot missiles.
Erdogan had insisted that the Patriot sale come with a transfer of technology, meaning that Turkey would be able to develop and produce its own missiles.
"They wouldn't let him buy the missile he wanted to buy, which was the Patriot," he said. "You have to treat people fairly. And I don’t think he was treated fairly."
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However, Trump did not rule out retaliatory sanctions.
Sanctions would be devastating for Turkey's ailing economy.
Previous diplomatic crises with Washington have led to drastic dips in the value of the Turkish lira. A 30% decline in the currency prompted a recession last year, and the lira has fallen another 10 percent this year.
Even minor US sanctions could prompt another sharp slide in the currency.
However, the US president said he wanted the issue to be resolved without allowing already fragile ties between the two nations to deteriorate.
A readout provided by the White House after the talks said Trump had "encouraged Turkey to work with the United States on defence cooperation in a way that strengthens the NATO alliance".
Erdogan, speaking before talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit, said the deal showed improving ties between Turkey and Russia.
"Now, I believe eyes are on the delivery process of this issue, but there are no setbacks in our agreement," the president said, according to Reuters.
Turkey's priorities for the deal include joint production of the systems and a technology transfer, he added.The S-400s are expected to be delivered to Turkey next month, but plans over where the systems would be stations are still unsure.