In a deepening rift between two major NATO allies, Turkey says it will retaliate if Washington stops the sale of US weapons over Ankara’s decision to buy Russian military hardware. Such a move would be “wrong” and “illogical.”
“If the United States imposes sanctions on us or takes such a step, Turkey will absolutely retaliate,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told CNN Turk. “What needs to be done is the US needs to let go of this.”
“Turkey is not a country under your orders, it is an independent country… speaking to such a country from above, dictating what it can and cannot buy, is not a correct approach and does not fit our alliance,” he said, referring to the fact that both countries are part of NATO.
The notion of halting weapons sales has been put forward by lawmakers in the US House of Representatives through the proposed US National Defense Authorization Act. The latter would ask the defense department to provide Congress with a report on the relationship between the US and Turkey and would block the sale of major defense equipment until the report is complete.
This move could throw a spanner in the works for Turkey as it plans to buy more than 100 Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Jets. It is also in talks with Washington over the purchase of Patriot missiles.
Cavusoglu said he plans to travel to Washington next week to meet with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who previously said he was concerned over Ankara’s decision to buy the Russian S-400 missile batteries.
The foreign minister’s comments come after US State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said on Thursday that Washington has “serious concerns about Turkey’s potential acquisition” of S-400 anti-aircraft systems.
Nauert added that NATO countries are only supposed to buy weapons and other materiel that are “interoperable with other NATO partners.”
In April, Assistant Secretary of State Wess Mitchell warned that the decision to buy Russian military hardware exposed Turkey to the possibility of sanctions. He added that it may bar Ankara from receiving any F-35 jets under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which is mainly aimed at hindering Russian arms exports.
Mitchell strayed from the usual “interoperable with NATO equipment”justification, instead stating that it was “in the American national interest to see Turkey remain strategically and politically aligned with the West.” He specifically noted his disapproval that Ankara had “increased its engagement with Russia and Iran.”
Responding to Mitchell’s comments, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov described the US threats as “a typical example of attempted blackmail” with the intention of giving US companies an “unfair advantage in market competition.”
The deal between Turkey and Russia was signed in December. Deliveries of the S-400 systems to Turkey are scheduled to start in 2020. However, following talks with Cavusoglu in March, Lavrov stated that Moscow is ready to speed up the process.
Cavusoglu’s Sunday remarks come amid increased tensions between the US and Turkey, particularly over Ankara’s Operation Olive Branch, which was launched against Kurdish fighters in Afrin on January 20. A war of words broke out after the top US commander in the US-led coalition against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) said that Turkey would face a sharp response if it struck Manbij, Syria as part of its operation.
“It is obvious that those who say they will ‘give a sharp response’ if they were hit have not been hit by the Ottoman slap,”Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in response. His words referenced a Turkish martial arts move that involves an open-palm hit, resulting in a one-hit knockout or even skull fractures and death.
The relationship between Washington and Ankara also hit a speed bump in October, when Turkey arrested a US consulate worker for alleged ties to exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara blames for a failed coup attempt in 2016. Ankara has criticized the US for failing to extradite Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania, while Western governments have slammed Turkey for its post-coup crackdown.
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