US President Donald Trump on Wednesday pushed Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan to walk away from the purchase of a Russian missile defense system, calling it a “very serious challenge” to bilateral ties, even though he described a meeting between the two leaders as “wonderful.”
After the 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 “productive” encounter.
But both leaders fell short of explaining in concrete terms how they would overcome the mounting differences they have on numerous issues, from Erdogan’s incursion in Syria against America’s Kurdish allies to Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defense system.
Minutes after their news conference, the White House released a statement using firmer language than the two leaders
“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 than the two leaders, who boast of having a warm personal relationship while their governments are largely on icy terms.
“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.
Washington says Ankara’s purchase of the Russian system is not compatible with NATO defenses and also poses a threat to the F-35 ‘stealth’ fighter jet Lockheed Martin is developing. It is concerned that Turkey, a bulwark against the Soviet Union during the Cold War, is deepening ties with Moscow at the expense of its partnership with the United States.
Turkey had shrugged off threats of US sanctions and began receiving its first S-400 deliveries in July. To punish Turkey, the United States has banned sales of F-35s to the country and removed it from a multinational program to produce the warplane.
On Wednesday, both leaders said they will work to resolve the issue, without saying how. “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 the two countries could only overcome the dispute through dialogue. “We are in agreement to further Turkish-American ties on a healthy ground. We have agreed to open a new page in our relationship,” he said.