The US is still pressing Turkey not to use Russian S-400 missile systems, Reuters quoted an unnamed senior State Department official as saying on Friday. The first batch of the contentious military units arrived in Turkey in July, to the ire of Ankara's largest NATO ally.
“There’s still work to get the Turks to walk away from the S-400s: be it turn it off, send it back, destroy it, what have you. That is still an ongoing issue. We’re talking about re-mediating, re-addressing, reconciling. That’s not off the table,” the official pointed out.
The official claimed that “not everybody is President Erdogan in the Turkish government and that there were Turks who earlier said that 'we’d rather not put ourselves at risk of Russian influence, we’d rather not put ourselves at risk of isolating ourselves from NATO partners, we’d rather not put ourselves isolating from Washington.'”
The official insisted that under the best-case scenario, Turkey would never have purchased any component of the S-400 system.
“But now that that line has been crossed, it’s a matter of how to isolate and compartmentalise that, neutralise it and move forward […] but it’s much more difficult than it was before,” they added.
Will Turkey Purchase Russia’s Su-35 Warplanes?
The remarks come as the state-run Turkish newspaper Daily Sabah cited local sources as saying that Ankara is close to clinching a deal with Moscow for the purchase of advanced Russian Su-35 fighter jets, as well as an agreement to co-manufacture some components of these warplanes.
The sources asserted that Turkish and Russian officials are in talks about the sale of a total of 36 Su-35 planes to Turkey, two months after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's visit to the MAKS air show outside of Moscow.
Shortly after, Erdogan confirmed that negotiations on deliveries of the Su-35s to Ankara were underway, even though the country’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu had earlier denied that such talks were being conducted.
Why are Ankara and Washington Still at Odds?
Prior to this, Washington announced its decision to suspend Turkey's participation in the international F-35 programme over Ankara's purchase of the S-400s, adding that the country would be completely removed from the project by late March 2020. Under the programme, Turkey has ordered more than 100 F-35 fighter jets.
The US claims that the S-400 systems are incompatible with NATO's air defence weapons and may compromise the operations of the F-35 fighter jets. Washington has repeatedly threatened to slap sanctions on Ankara over its purchase of the S-400s.
Despite the US pressure, Turkey has refused to reverse its contract with Russia, saying that it was a done deal which is vital for its national defence. Ankara also stressed that the S-400s were not related to the security of NATO, the US, or the F-35 in any way.
Moscow and Ankara signed a loan agreement for the supply of Russian S-400 air defence systems to Turkey in September 2017. Russia completed the first shipment of S-400 components to Turkey in late July 2019. With the second state of the deliveries wrapping up in late September, Foreign Minister Cavusoglu said that he did not rule out that Ankara may purchase an additional batch of S-400s if necessary.