On Tuesday, US President Donald Trump refused to criticize Turkey’s possession of a Russian missile system assailed by the Pentagon and NATO, without mentioning of sanctions Washington had threatened over the purchase.
Since Turkey started taking delivery of the S-400 system, Trump in his first comments on Friday said Turkey was forced into the move by his predecessor, Barack Obama, and that he understood why they decided to buy the Russian missiles.
Mr. Trump told the journalists, “I’ve had a good relationship with President (Recep Tayyip) Erdogan.” He added that “It’s a very tough situation that they’re in and it’s a very tough situation that we’ve been placed in….With all of that being said, we’re working through it — we’ll see what happens.”
Observing that the Pentagon has suspended Turkey from participating in the NATO F-35 fighter jet production program and from buying a planned 100 F-35s, he called it a “complex situation”.
“Because they have a system of missiles that’s made in Russia, they’re now prohibited from buying over 100 planes. I would say that Lockheed isn’t exactly happy. That’s a lot of jobs,” Trump further claimed.
However, Trump’s statement was totally different from the view of the Congress and the Pentagon as they are considering that placing the S-400 system alongside the F-35 was a threat to the US and NATO air systems.
On Tuesday, the Senate Armed Services Committee was told by Mark Esper, Trump’s nominee as secretary of defense, “Turkey has been a long-standing and very capable NATO ally, but their decision on the S-400 is the wrong one and it’s disappointing.”
“Acquisition of the S-400 fundamentally undermines the capability of the F-35 and our ability to maintain that overmatch in the skies,” Esper said. He also claimed that he has informed Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar that his policy is, “You can either have the S-400 or the F-35. You cannot have both.”
Senior Republican and Democratic senators of the armed services and foreign relations committees requested Trump to implement new sanctions on Turkey and directly “terminate” Turkey’s participation in the F-35 program. “By accepting delivery of the S-400 from Russia, President Erdogan has chosen a perilous partnership with (Russian President Vladimir) Putin at the expense of Turkey’s security, economic prosperity and the integrity of the NATO alliance,” they said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Morgan Ortagus, the State Department spokeswoman said on Tuesday that Mike Pompeo and Trump are reviewing the situation. When asked if there could be a waiver, Ortagus said: “I think that the secretary and the president will make a decision based off what they are required to do according to US law,” without specifying a timeline for the decision.