Russian Missiles a Sideshow in Turkey-U.S. Disputes, Aide Says

Demands from the U.S. Congress that Turkey give up its Russian-made air-defense capability before ties can improve were counterproductive and mask more serious flashpoints that must be resolved, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman said.

“They are presenting the S-400, the removal of the S-400, as a precondition and that’s simply not acceptable,” Ibrahim Kalin said in an interview Saturday.

The U.S. and Turkey have been allies for more than six decades, but in recent years their relationship has been strained by disputes. Turkey’s purchase of the Russian missile system — which the U.S. contends could help Moscow gather critical intelligence on NATO military projects including the F-35 fighter jet — is the source of the most recent conflict.

Activation of the advanced S-400sdelivered last year has taken longer than planned, leaving some observers to conclude that Erdogan wants to avoid planting Turkey into the raw politics of President Donald Trump’s re-election fight. Yet Kalin put the delay down to the Covid-19 pandemic, saying “the process is still going on. There is no reversal of that decision.”

Under its missile deal, Moscow is due to transfer technology enabling Turkey to co-produce a second S-400 battery, Kalin said. Russia on Sunday said it may sign a new S-400 agreement with Ankara in 2021, according to Interfax.

The White House has resisted growing pressure from both parties in Congress to exact retributions on Turkey, which hosts key NATO installations, over its S-400 purchase. Butbipartisan legislation approved by the House of Representatives last month calls for sanctions.

Erdogan Defies the West to Make Turkey a Regional Power

Kalin said that, instead, the U.S. should focus on the “main issues” troubling relations including U.S. support to Kurdish YPG forces in Syria who have links to separatist militants Turkey and the European Union consider terrorists; Washington’s refusal to extradite Fethullah Gulen, the Turkish cleric living in exile in Pennsylvania whom Erdogan accuses of orchestrating a failed 2016 coup; and a U.S. prosecution of one of Turkey’s largest banks.

“Policy makers in Washington, as well as others, need to understand how serious these issues are for Turkey,” Kalin said.

Erdogan and Trump have talked up their personal chemistry amid the many disagreements and say they can work together. But that hasn’t prevented regular spats.

Biden Video

Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and Trump confidant, said in June that for Turkey and the U.S to build closer trade ties in the face of new challenges, such as the rise of China, they must first resolve the missile issue.

Graham cited Africa, where Turkey is involved in the war in Libya and shares with the U.S. a concern over Russia’s influence. Erdogan has cultivated ties with dozens of African nations during his almost two decades in power.

Turkey may now be bracing for a rough ride if Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is elected in November. Biden last week created a furor in Turkey when a Decembervideo surfaced of him calling for support for Turkish opposition parties to defeat Erdogan at the ballot box.

“The date of his remarks is a secondary issue, what is important is whether he said it or not,” Kalin said. “Until now, we did not hear any statement from him aimed at fixing this.”

— With assistance by Simin Demokan, and Onur Ant

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