Keep Your Friends Close: Pentagon Chief Wants NATO to ‘Bind Turkey Closer to Alliance’

© AP Photo / Alik KepliczTurkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrives for sessions on the second day of the NATO Summit in Warsaw, Poland. (File)
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrives for sessions on the second day of the NATO Summit in Warsaw, Poland. (File) - Sputnik International
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Relations between Turkey and the US reached a new low last week as the Senate Foreign relations Committee approved slapping Ankara with sanctions over its purchase of a Russian air defence system. The move prompted President Erdogan to threaten to kick US troops out of Incirlik, a crucial logistical hub for US operations in the Middle East.

US Secretary of Defence Mark Esper called on America’s NATO allies to help keep Turkey close to the alliance, while reiterating that the US won’t allow the country to get its F-35 fifth generation fighter planes, since it’s chosen to hang on to its S-400s.

“They have accepted the S-400 which means they won’t receive the F-35…We need to bind them closer to the NATO alliance,” Esper said, speaking reporters on Friday.

Esper also commented on the US’s continued illegal presence in Syria’s oil-producing regions, saying he couldn’t give an estimate on when the US might withdraw its roughly 600 troops from the war-torn country.

“That’s a crystal ball that I don’t have. I think we’re there as long as we can ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS [Daesh]*,” he said.

Asked to comment on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s recent threat to close the Incirlik airbase to US forces if Washington moves forward with Syria and S-400-related sanctions, Esper said he wasn’t certain of the seriousness of the threat. “That’s one of the things…I need to follow up on to make sure I understand what’s driving that and how serious they are,” he said.

© REUTERS / Murad SezerA Turkish Air Force F-4 fighter jet flies over a minaret after it took off from Incirlik air base in Adana, Turkey, August 12, 2015.
Keep Your Friends Close: Pentagon Chief Wants NATO to ‘Bind Turkey Closer to Alliance’ - Sputnik International
A Turkish Air Force F-4 fighter jet flies over a minaret after it took off from Incirlik air base in Adana, Turkey, August 12, 2015.

Difficult Relations

On Sunday, Erdogan warned that Ankara may kick the US out of Incirlik and Kurecik, another military base, if the US moved forward with sanctions over Turkey’s S-400 purchase.

Last week, a bipartisan group of US lawmakers on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed the ‘Promoting American National Security and Preventing the Resurgence of ISIS Act’, which includes sanctions against Turkey over its operation in northern Syria, and over Ankara’s decision to buy Russia’s S-400 air defence system. The bill is now set for a vote before the rest of the Senate.

Turkish officials responded to the move by accusing Washington of “supporting a terrorist organization” (Syria’s Kurdish militias), and vowed not to “retreat” on the S-400 issue.

Last week, speaking before the House Armed Services Committee, Secretary of Defence Esper expressed concerns over Turkey’s ‘drift away from’ the US and its allies, saying he was gravely concerned by growing ties between Moscow and Ankara, which he said was a sign of Turkey’s move away from the “NATO orbit.”

Russia and Turkey penned a $2.5 billion agreement on the delivery of a contingent of S-400 air defence systems in late 2017, with deliveries beginning in July 2019. After the deal was signed, Washington tried to convince Turkey to drop the contract and to buy its Patriot missile systems instead. After Turkey refused, the country was dropped from Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighter jet programme.


*A terrorist group outlawed in Russia and many other countries.

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