Ahead of meeting, Turkey expects Russia to help rein in Syrian forces

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan watch demonstration flights during the opening of the MAKS-2019 International Aviation and Space Salon in Zhukovsky outside Moscow, Russia, August 27, 2019. Maxim Shipenkov/Pool via REUTERS

By Orhan Coskun

ANKARA (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan will seek steps from Russia’s Vladimir Putin to safeguard Turkish troops in the face of an offensive by the Syrian army in the country’s northwest when the two leaders meet on Tuesday, a senior Turkish official said.

Erdogan, who is making a one-day visit to Russia, told Putin last week that attacks by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces were causing a humanitarian crisis and threatened Turkey’s national security.

The official told Reuters that the security of Turkish soldiers in Syria would be one of the key topics at the meeting. The meeting is due to start at 1:30 p.m. (1030 GMT), with a joint statement to be issued at 4 p.m. (1300 GMT).

“We expect Russia to use its influence over the regime on this matter. If there is even the smallest attack on Turkish soldiers, we will retaliate against this,” the official said.

Syrian troops have encircled rebels and a Turkish military post in northwest Syria in an offensive to reclaim territory and towns the government lost early in the war. Turkey has supported some rebel factions in the northwestern Idlib region, while Russia and Iran back Assad.

The military observation post near the town of Morek is one of 12 that Ankara established in northwest Syria under a deal with Moscow and Tehran two years ago to reduce fighting between Assad’s forces and rebels.

“Any step or attack that would violate the agreement should be avoided, but unfortunately we see examples of these in recent times,” the official said. “We expect Putin to take steps that will alleviate the problem there.”

Erdogan and Putin hold frequent talks and have forged close ties focused on energy and defense cooperation. In July, Turkey began taking delivery of Russian S-400 missile defense systems – a move that strained ties with Ankara’s NATO ally the United States.

Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said on Monday that delivery of the second battery of the S-400 system would begin on Tuesday.

As well as putting Turkish troops in the region in the firing line, the advances of Assad’s forces have threatened Ankara’s hopes of preventing a fresh wave of refugees – including fighters – on its southern border.

The United Nations says more than 500,000 people have been uprooted since the Syrian army began its offensive in late April, most of them escaping deeper into the rebel bastion and toward the border. Turkey opened its border at the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011 and now hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees.

“The necessary measures need to be taken to prevent a migrant wave from there to Turkey. Measures should be taken against any problems that may arise on this issue,” the official also said.

(Additional reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Frances Kerry)

Peace deal in Afghanistan closer than ever before, says NATO chief

FILE PHOTO: NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg addresses a news conference on the alliance's annual report at NATO's headquarters in Brussels, Belgium March 14, 2019. REUTERS/Yves Herman

WELLINGTON (Reuters) – NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Tuesday that there was a real chance for peace in Afghanistan as U.S.-Taliban peace talks continue in Qatar.

“We now see a real chance for peace in Afghanistan, we are closer to a peace deal than ever before,” Stoltenberg told reporters at a news conference in Wellington, New Zealand.

(Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield; writing by Praveen Menon; editing by Grant McCool)

U.S. pulls out of Soviet-era nuclear missile pact with Russia

FILE PHOTO: A component of SSC-8/9M729 cruise missile system is on display during a news briefing, organized by Russian defence and foreign ministries, at Patriot Expocentre near Moscow, Russia January 23, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

By Steve Holland and Andrew Osborn

WASHINGTON/MOSCOW (Reuters) – The United States formally withdrew from a landmark nuclear missile pact with Russia on Friday after determining that Moscow was in violation of the treaty, something the Kremlin has repeatedly denied.

Washington signaled it would pull out of the arms control treaty six months ago unless Moscow stuck to the accord. Russia called the move a ploy to exit a pact the United States wanted to leave anyway in order to develop new missiles.

The 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) was negotiated by then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Ronald Reagan (R) and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev sign the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty in the White House December 8 1987. REUTERS//File Photo

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Ronald Reagan (R) and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev sign the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty in the White House December 8 1987. REUTERS//File Photo

It banned land-based missiles with a range of between 310 and 3,400 miles (500-5,500 km), thus reducing both countries’ ability to launch a nuclear strike at short notice.

“The United States will not remain party to a treaty that is deliberately violated by Russia,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement about the U.S. withdrawal.

“Russia’s non-compliance under the treaty jeopardizes U.S. supreme interests as Russia’s development and fielding of a treaty-violating missile system represents a direct threat to the United States and our allies and partners,” Pompeo said.

Senior administration officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Russia had deployed “multiple battalions” of a cruise missile throughout Russia in violation of the pact, including in western Russia, “with the ability to strike critical European targets.”

Russia denies the allegation, saying the missile’s range puts it outside the treaty. It has rejected a U.S. demand to destroy the new missile, the Novator 9M729, known as the SSC-8 by the NATO Western military alliance.

Moscow has told Washington its decision to quit the pact undermines global security and removes a key pillar of international arms control.

RUSSIAN RESPONSE

Russia said on Friday it had asked the United States for a moratorium on the deployment of land-based short and intermediate-range nuclear missiles.

“A serious mistake has been made in Washington,” Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

“We have already introduced a unilateral moratorium and won’t deploy land-based short or medium-range missiles, if we get them, in regions where such U.S. missiles are not deployed,” it said.

President Vladimir Putin says Russia does not want an arms race and he has promised he will not deploy Russian missiles unless the United States does so first.

However, should Washington take such a step, he says he would be forced to deploy Russian hypersonic nuclear missiles on ships or submarines near U.S. territorial waters.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg dismissed Russia’s moratorium request on Friday, saying it was “not a credible offer” as he said Moscow had already deployed illegal missiles.

“There are no new U.S. missiles, no new NATO missiles in Europe, but there are more and more new Russian missiles,” he said.

The dispute is aggravating the worst U.S.-Russia friction since the Cold War ended in 1991. Some experts believe the treaty’s collapse could undermine other arms control agreements and speed an erosion of the global system designed to block the spread of nuclear arms.

‘WE DON’T WANT A NEW ARMS RACE’

NATO said it had agreed a defensive package of measures to deter Russia. That response would be measured and would only involve conventional weapons, it said.

NATO’s Stoltenberg said there would be “no rash moves” by the alliance which he said “would not mirror what Russia does.”

“We don’t want a new arms race,” Stoltenberg said.

NATO members Britain and Poland blamed Moscow for the INF treaty’s demise.

“Their contempt for the rules-based international system threatens European security,” British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on Twitter.

European officials have voiced concern that if the treaty collapses, Europe could again become an arena for a nuclear-armed, intermediate-range missile buildup by the United States and Russia.

U.S. officials said the United States was months away from the first flight tests of an American intermediate-range missile that would serve as a counter to the Russians. Any deployment would be years away, they said.

“We are just at the stage of looking at how we might further the development of conventional options,” one official said.

The U.S. military plans to test a ground-launched cruise missile in the coming weeks and an intermediate-range ballistic missile in November, both of which would have been banned under the treaty.

But U.S. officials told Reuters that funding would run out for the tests without approval from Congress, where top Democrats have balked at Trump’s treaty pullout.

Trump has said he would like to see a “next-generation” arms control deal with Russia and China to cover all types of nuclear weapons, something Beijing has so far rejected.

(Reporting by Roberta Rampton and Steve Holland in WASHINGTON, Andrew Osborn in MOSCOW and Robin Emmott in BRUSSELS; Additional reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart; Editing by Jon Boyle, Peter Graff and Edmund Blair)

Erdogan says Turkey to turn elsewhere if U.S. will not sell F-35s

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a meeting of his ruling AK Party in Ankara, Turkey, July 26, 2019. Cem Oksuz/Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday Turkey would turn elsewhere for fighter jets if the United States will not sell it the F-35 jets, adding that a U.S. decision to cut Ankara from the program would not deter it from meeting its needs.

The United States said last week it was removing NATO ally Turkey from the F-35 program, as long threatened, after Ankara purchased and received delivery of Russian S-400 missile defenses that Washington sees as a threat.

Washington has also threatened to impose sanctions on Turkey, though Ankara has dismissed the warnings. It has instead put its trust in sympathetic comments from U.S. President Donald Trump, who has said that Turkey was treated “unfairly”. However, Trump has not ruled out sanctions on Turkey.

Erdogan, speaking publicly about the strained U.S. ties for the first time in 11 days, said he hoped U.S. officials would be “reasonable” on the question of sanctions, adding that Turkey may also reconsider its purchase of advanced Boeing aircraft from the United States.

“Are you not giving us the F-35s? Okay, then excuse us but we will once again have to take measures on that matter as well and we will turn elsewhere,” Erdogan told members of his ruling AK Party.

“Even if we’re not getting F-35s, we are buying 100 advanced Boeing aircraft, the agreement is signed… At the moment, one of the Boeing planes has arrived and we are making the payments, we are good customers,” he said. “But, if things continue like this, we will have to reconsider this.”

Russia’s Rostec state conglomerate said Russia would be ready to supply its SU-35 jets to Turkey if Ankara requested them. But, Turkish officials said on Thursday there were no talks with Moscow on alternatives to the F-35 jets for now.

Ties between Ankara and Washington have been strained over a host of issues. Turkey has also been infuriated with U.S. support for the Kurdish YPG militia in Syria, a main U.S. ally in the region that Ankara sees as a terrorist organization.

Ankara has warned that it would launch a military operation in northern Syria to wipe out the YPG if it could not agree with Washington on the planned safe zone in the region, saying it had run “out of patience.”

However, Erdogan said on Friday that Turkey is determined to destroy the “terror corridor” east of the Euphrates river in Syria no matter how talks on the safe zone conclude, as Ankara ramped up its threats of an offensive.

(Reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun and Ali Kucukgocmen; Writing by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Jonathan Spicer)

Turkey will retaliate if U.S. imposes sanctions over S-400s: minister

FILE PHOTO: First parts of a Russian S-400 missile defense system are unloaded from a Russian plane at Murted Airport, known as Akinci Air Base, near Ankara, Turkey, July 12, 2019. Turkish Military/Turkish Defence Ministry/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo

By Ece Toksabay and Tuvan Gumrukcu

ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey would retaliate against what it called an unacceptable threat of U.S. sanctions over Ankara’s purchase of Russian S-400 missile defenses, its foreign minister said on Monday, adding he thinks President Donald Trump wants to avoid such measures.

Turkey began receiving deliveries of the surface-to-air S-400 systems earlier this month, prompting the United States to begin removing the NATO ally from its F-35 stealth fighter program over security concerns.

Washington says it is concerned that S-400 software will compromise its F-35s to the benefit of Russia. While several Republican and Democratic U.S. lawmakers have pressed for sanctions, Trump has equivocated in recent days.

“If the United States portrays an adversarial attitude towards us, we will take retaliatory measures, as we’ve told them. This is not a threat or a bluff,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in an interview with broadcaster TGRT Haber.

“We are not a country that will bow down to those who show animosity towards Turkey,” he said, reiterating a threat of retaliation that Turkey made last month.

Cavusoglu added that he did not expect the U.S. administration to take such action.

“Trump does not want to impose sanctions on Turkey and he frequently says that his administration and the previous U.S. administration is also responsible for Turkey not being able to buy Patriot systems. This is true,” Cavusoglu said.

The United States announced last week it was beginning the process of removing Turkey from the program for the F-35 stealth jets, the most advanced aircraft in the U.S. arsenal, which is used by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and other partner countries.

Turkey, like some other NATO partners, was part of the manufacturing supply chain for the aircraft, producing some 900 parts and Turkish defense companies are set to lose work worth billions of dollars.

A U.S. official said it would cost some $500 million to $600 million to shift F-35 manufacturing from Turkey.

RUSSIAN ALTERNATIVE

The delivery of S-400 components is ongoing, with 14 shipments of related equipment having landed in Turkey over the last nine days. Deliveries are set to continue through April 2020.

Separately, Sergei Chemezov, head of Russia’s Rostec state conglomerate, said that Russia and Turkey were in talks about the possibility of jointly manufacturing some components of the S-400 system in Turkey.

“Moscow and Ankara are holding consultations in the area of the licensed production of the S-400 air defense system component parts,” Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency quoted Chemezov as saying.

“Besides, Turkey is interested in the latest Russian combat modules, air defense systems of various ranges, as well as anti-tank systems. Negotiations are underway for Russia to help the Republic of Turkey in creating its national air defense and long-range missile defense systems,” he said.

Chemezov added that Moscow was ready for various formats of technological cooperation, including in such high-tech areas as the aerospace industry, helicopter construction, and energy.

(Writing by Ece Toksabay; Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Frances Kerry)

U.S. removing Turkey from F-35 program after its Russian missile defense purchase

Turkey and U.S. flags are seen in this picture illustration taken August 25, 2018. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

By Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States said on Wednesday that it was removing Turkey from the F-35 fighter jet program, a move long threatened and expected after Ankara began accepting delivery of an advanced Russian missile defense system last week.

The first parts of the S-400 air defense system were flown to the Murted military air base northwest of Ankara on Friday, sealing NATO ally Turkey’s deal with Russia, which Washington had struggled for months to prevent.

“The U.S. and other F-35 partners are aligned in this decision to suspend Turkey from the program and initiate the process to formally remove Turkey from the program,” Ellen Lord, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, told a briefing.

Turkey’s foreign ministry said the move was unfair and could affect relations between the two countries.

Lord said moving the supply chain for the advanced fighter jet would cost the United States between $500 million and $600 million in non-recurring engineering costs.

Turkey makes more than 900 parts of the F-35, she said, adding the supply chain would transition from Turkish to mainly U.S. factories as Turkish suppliers are removed.

“Turkey will certainly and regrettably lose jobs and future economic opportunities from this decision,” Lord said. “It will no longer receive more than $9 billion in projected work share related to the F-35 over the life of the program.”

The F-35 stealth fighter jet, the most advanced aircraft in the U.S. arsenal, is used by NATO and other U.S. allies.

Washington is concerned that deploying the S-400 with the F-35 would allow Russia to gain too much inside information about the aircraft’s stealth system.

“The F-35 cannot coexist with a Russian intelligence collection platform that will be used to learn about its advanced capabilities,” the White House said in a statement earlier on Wednesday.

Washington had long said the acquisition of the S-400 might lead to Turkey’s expulsion from the F-35 program.

FRAYED TIES

After the Pentagon announcement, Turkey’s foreign ministry said in a statement: “We invite the United States to return from this mistake which would open irreparable wounds in strategic relations.”

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, speaking at the Aspen Institute’s annual security forum in Aspen, Colorado, said he was concerned at Turkey’s expulsion from the F-35 program.

But while the S-400 could not become part of NATO’s shared air and missile defenses, he said, Turkey has aircraft and radars that would remain part of the system.

“The S-400, the Russian air defense system, it’s not possible to integrate into the integrated NATO air defense and missile system, which is about sharing, you know, radar picture, about joint air policing, which is about shared capabilities. And Turkey has not asked for that,” Stoltenberg said.

The S-400 acquisition is one of several issues that have frayed ties between the two allies, including a dispute over strategy in Syria east of the Euphrates River, where the United States is allied with Kurdish forces that Turkey views as foes.

The Pentagon had already laid out a plan to remove Turkey from the program, which included halting training for Turkish pilots on the aircraft.

Lord said all the Turkish F-35 pilots and personnel had “firm plans” to leave the United States and were scheduled to leave by July 31.

Turkey will no longer be able to buy the 100 F-35s it had agreed to purchase.

“These would likely have been delivered at an annual rate of 8-12 aircraft/year through the 2020s,” Byron Callan, an analyst at Capital Alpha Partners, said in a research note on Wednesday.

The jet’s prime contractor, Lockheed Martin Corp and the jet’s program office at the Pentagon “should be able to re-market those delivery positions,” Callan said.

Lockheed Martin spokeswoman Carolyn Nelson said: “Over the last several months we’ve been working to establish alternative sources of supply in the United States to quickly” adjust for the loss of Turkey’s contribution to the program.

The United States is considering expanding sales of the jets to five other nations, including Romania, Greece and Poland, as European allies bulk up their defenses in the face of a strengthening Russia.

David Trachtenberg, the deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, told reporters at the briefing that the United States still valued its relationship with Turkey.

“Our strategic partnership continues, but as I said, this is a specific response to a specific action,” Trachtenberg said.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart; Additional reporting by Mike Stone, David Alexander and Jonathan Landay in Washington and Ezgi Erkoyun in Istanbul; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Peter Cooney)

Russia delivers missile system to Turkey in challenge to NATO

By Sarah Dadouch and Ezgi Erkoyun

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Russia began delivery of an advanced missile defense system to Turkey on Friday, a move expected to trigger U.S. sanctions against a NATO ally and drive a wedge into the heart of the Western military alliance.

The first parts of the S-400 air defense system were flown to a military air base near the capital Ankara, the Turkish Defense Ministry said, sealing Turkey’s deal with Russia which Washington had struggled for months to prevent.

The United States says the Russian military hardware is not compatible with NATO systems and that the acquisition may lead to Ankara’s expulsion from an F-35 fighter jet program.

Investors in Turkey have been unsettled by the deal. The Turkish lira weakened as far as 5.728 against the dollar from 5.683 before the ministry announced the arrival of the S-400 consignment to the Murted Air Base, northwest of Ankara. The main Istanbul share index fell 1.4%.

“The delivery of parts belonging to the system will continue in the coming days,” Turkey’s Defense Industry Directorate said. “Once the system is completely ready, it will begin to be used in a way determined by the relevant authorities.”

At least two Russian Air Force AN-124 cargo planes flew to Turkey on Friday morning, data from plane tracking website Flightradar24 showed. Turkish broadcasters showed footage of one plane parked at airbase and a second one landing at around 12.30 pm (0930 GMT).

Russia’s Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation confirmed on Friday it had started delivering the S-400 systems and that the deliveries would continue in accordance with an agreed schedule, the RIA news agency reported.

An unnamed military-diplomatic source was cited by Russia’s TASS news agency as saying a second delivery would be carried out by plane soon. A third delivery – of 120 guided missiles – will be carried out by ship at the end of the summer, the source was quoted as saying.

Twenty Turkish servicemen received training from Russia in May-June and 80 more Turkish servicemen will receive training to use the S-400 system, the source was quoted as saying.

ERDOGAN-TRUMP TALKS

Turkey says the system is a strategic defense requirement, particularly to secure its southern borders with Syria and Iraq. It says that when it made the deal with Russia for the S-400s, the United States and Europe had not presented a viable alternative.

President Tayyip Erdogan said after meeting President Donald Trump at a G20 summit last month that the United States did not plan to impose sanctions on Ankara for buying the S-400s.

Trump said Turkey had not been treated fairly but did not rule out sanctions. U.S. officials said last week the administration still plans to impose sanctions on Turkey.

Under legislation known as Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which targets purchases of military equipment from Russia, Trump should select five of 12 possible measures.

These range from banning visas and denying access to the U.S.-based Export-Import Bank, to the harsher options of blocking transactions with the U.S. financial system and denying export licenses.

Washington says the S-400s could compromise its Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighter jets, an aircraft Turkey is helping to build and planning to buy.

Turkey could also face expulsion from the F-35 program under the sanctions. Erdogan has dismissed that possibility, but Washington has already started the process of removing Turkey from the program, halting training of Turkish pilots in the United States on the aircraft.

Investors in Turkey have been concerned about the impact of potential U.S. sanctions on an economy which fell into recession after a currency crisis last year.

Turkey’s dollar bonds dropped to three-week lows on the news of the delivery, while the cost of insuring exposure to Turkish sovereign debt also rose.

The S-400 acquisition is one of several issues which have frayed ties between the two allies, including a dispute over strategy in Syria east of the Euphrates River, where the United States is allied with Kurdish forces that Turkey views as foes.

The detention of U.S. consular staff in Turkey has also strained relations, along with disagreements over Iran, Venezuela and Middle East policy. Turkey has long demanded Washington hand over a Muslim cleric which Ankara holds responsible for an attempted coup in 2016.

The Murted base was formerly known as Akinci Air Base and was used by putschist soldiers in the failed 2016 coup.

(Additional reporting by Orhan Coskun in Ankara, Maxim Rodionov and Thomas Balmforth in Moscow; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Dominic Evans and Gareth Jones)

Erdogan does not expect U.S. sanctions over Russian S-400 deal

FILE PHOTO - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attends talks with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Russian President Vladimir Putin, during their meeting in the Black sea resort of Sochi, Russia, 14 February 2019. Sergei Chirikov/Pool via REUTERS

By Jonathan Spicer and Humeyra Pamuk

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday he did not expect the United States to impose sanctions over Turkey’s planned purchase of a Russian missile defense system, but he would retaliate if it did.

Speaking at a rare news conference for foreign media in Istanbul, Erdogan repeated that the purchase of Russian S-400 systems was a done deal and said the United States should think carefully before imposing sanctions on a NATO member.

“I do not see any possibility of these sanctions happening,” Erdogan said. However, if they did, “we will have sanctions of our own”.

Washington has repeatedly threatened to impose sanctions unless Ankara backs down from the S-400 purchase. Erdogan said the delivery of the system would start in the first half of July.

His expectation of no sanctions appeared largely based on his personal relationship with President Donald Trump. “I say this very openly and sincerely, our relations with Trump are at a place that I can call really good … In the event of any issues, we immediately work the phones,” Erdogan said.

He said he would discuss the issue with Trump at the G20 summit in Japan at the end of June, and that the problem was largely with other U.S. officials. “When we have talks with those below Trump, we see that many cannot agree with our officials, and one example is the S-400,” he said.

Turkey and the United States have been at loggerheads over the issue for months. Washington says the S-400 is incompatible with NATO’s defense network and could compromise its F-35 fighter jets, an aircraft Turkey is helping build and planning to buy.

Buying military equipment from Russia leaves Turkey liable to U.S. retribution under a 2017 law known as the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, or CAATSA.

Even minor U.S. sanctions could prompt another sharp sell-off in the Turkish lira. A 30 percent slide in the currency drove the Middle East’s largest economy into recession last year. It has fallen another 10 percent this year and markets remain on edge.

Erdogan said Turkey wanted to buy Patriot missiles from the U.S. but that offer was in no way comparable to Russia’s.

He said Turkey would appeal to international courts and ask for its F-35 payments to be refunded if needed.

(Additional reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen and Canan Sevgili; Writing by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Daren Butler and John Stonestreet)

Turkey rejects U.S. ultimatums, says it will not back down on Russian S-400s

FILE PHOTO: A view shows a new S-400 "Triumph" surface-to-air missile system after its deployment at a military base outside the town of Gvardeysk near Kaliningrad, Russia March 11, 2019. REUTERS/Vitaly Nevar/File Photo - RC1BFE102410

By Tuvan Gumrukcu

ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey will not back down from its decision to buy Russian S-400 missile defense systems despite U.S. warnings that it will lead to Ankara’s exclusion from the F-35 fighter jet program, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Thursday.

In what has become the main source of tension between Ankara and Washington, the NATO allies have sparred publicly for months over Turkey’s purchase of the S-400s, which Washington has said could trigger U.S. sanctions.

U.S. Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan last week sent his Turkish counterpart a letter warning that Ankara would be pulled out of the F-35 jet program unless it changes course from its plans to install the defenses.

In what was Turkey’s first direct response to the letter, Cavusoglu said no one can give Turkey ultimatums.

“Turkey will not back down from its decisions with these kinds of letters,” he said. “Turkey bought S-400, it is going to be delivered and stationed in Turkey.”

The S-400s are not compatible with NATO’s defense systems and Washington says they would compromise its F-35s, which Turkey also plans to buy. Turkey has proposed that the allies form a working group to asses the impact of the S-400s, but has yet to receive a response from the United States.

Cavusoglu on Thursday repeated Turkey’s call for the joint working group, saying experts from both countries should come together to evaluate U.S. concerns.

A day earlier, President Tayyip Erdogan said that Turkey had completed the deal with Russia and that the systems will be delivered in July. Russia has said it will begin the delivery of the systems in July.

Erdogan also said that Ankara would challenge its potential removal from the F-35 program on every platform and hold those who exclude Turkey accountable.

The United States has threatened to impose sanctions on Ankara under its Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), the possibility of which has spooked investors and caused a selloff in the lira this year.

The lira stood at 5.8460 at 1029 GMT on Thursday, weakening from around 5.8320, where it stood prior to Cavusoglu’s speech. It was down some 0.7% from Wednesday’s close.

While Turkey has dismissed the U.S. warnings, Washington has said discussions are taking place with Ankara on selling Turkey rival Raytheon Co-Patriot defense systems. But, Erdogan has said the U.S. offer was not “as good as the S-400s”.

Defense Minister Hulusi Akar has said Turkey is working on a response to Shanahan’s letter and that it will be delivered in coming days.

The ministers later spoke by telephone on Thursday and discussed the letter, Turkey’s defense ministry said, adding that Akar had “emphasized the improper wording not in line with the spirit of the Alliance” in the letter during the call.

Israel’s deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan said the strains between Turkey and the United States could help strengthen ties with Israel and boost the country’s participation in the F-35 program.

“It could also very much be that..the State of Israel will get another portion within the framework of the F-35 and additional things which, in part, were meant to have been transferred to factories in Turkey,” he told Army Radio.

(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ali Kucukgocmen; Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Angus MacSwan)

Trump says U.S. may send 2,000 troops from Germany to Poland

U.S. President Donald Trump greets Poland's President Andrzej Duda in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., June 12, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he is considering sending 2,000 U.S. troops from Germany to Poland, a step sought by Warsaw to deter potential aggression from Russia.

“We’re talking about it,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office as he met with visiting Polish President Andrzej Duda.

The United States already has troops in Poland as part of a 2016 agreement with the NATO military alliance in response to Moscow’s annexation of Crimea from Poland’s eastern neighbor Ukraine in 2014.

Trump said the United States has upwards of 50,000 troops in Germany and said 2,000 of them could be sent to Poland. He said Poland is going to be spending a lot of money on a military facility for the troops.

He also said he hopes Russia “will treat Poland with respect.”

“They get hurt unfortunately too often,” Trump said of the Poles. “They’re in the middle of everything. When bad things happen it seems like Poland is the first one…I hope that Russia and Poland and Germany are going to get along,” said Trump, who has often been criticized by Democrats for being too close to Russia and President Vladimir Putin.

The U.S. president said he thought he would travel to Poland at some point, but no dates were set yet. Duda has said he would unveil a deal this week to bolster the U.S. security presence in Poland.

(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Alistair Bell)