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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 March 2019

US Pentagon warns Turkey of 'grave consequences' over Russian missiles

US could halt deliveries of F-35 missiles and obstruct defence sales if President Erdogan goes ahead with his deal with Putin

The is the first time the Pentagon has warned Turkey directly over the missile issue. AP
The is the first time the Pentagon has warned Turkey directly over the missile issue. AP

The US Defence Department issued for the first time a stern warning to Turkey on Friday over its possible acquisition of the Russian S-400 missile defence system, cautioning its NATO ally of “grave consequences” if it goes ahead with the deal.

“If Turkey takes the S-400, there would be grave consequences in terms of our military relationship, and the Patriots and the F-35s,” acting spokesperson Charlie Summers told reporters at the Pentagon. “They would not have access to Patriot [missiles] and the F-35 [jets] ,” he warned.

Under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) passed by Congress and signed by the US President in August 2017, anyone entering into transactions with certain Russian intelligence and military entities will face US sanctions.

The Congress has also moved to halt the sale of at least 100 F-35 jets to Ankara over the S-400 deal. The National Defence Authorisation Act (NDAA), it considered the S-400 deal a threat to the security of the NATO alliance, and enforced a freeze on F-35 deliveries until the State Department submits a report to Congress detailing a “description of plans for the imposition of sanctions, if appropriate” for the S-400 purchase.

A US delegation flew to Turkey last week to hold talks on military sales, but no breakthrough was in sight as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated his intent to finalise the purchase of and deploy the S-400 system.

"We concluded the S-400 issue, signed a deal with the Russians and will start co-production…later, we may work with S-500s," Mr Erdogan told Turkish media this week.

By continuing the deal despite the Pentagon’s first direct warning, Ankara will risk its membership in the Joint Strike Fighter program that it joined in 2002, and at least 100 F-35 fighters on order from the United States.

Aaron Stein, the director of the Middle East program at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, said tension between US and Turkey over the S-400 deal has reached a “dangerous moment.”

“The US has sharpened its message because it is running out of time,” Mr Stein told The National. Turkey and Russia have told the world that the S-400s will be delivered in July, with operation beginning in October. We [the US] are simply out of time for a course correction,” Mr Stein warned.

Ankara’s removal from the F-35 consortium and the blocking of the F-35 delivery are some of the immediate options under consideration, Mr Stein said. But in the larger political context, Mr Stein said the the S-400 deal “appears to be a political arrangement between Mr Erdogan and [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, so any last minute cancellation would also have spill over effects on their personal relationship.”

As the US and Turkey have grown adrift over set of issues that include Syria, Venezuela and Iran, Mr Erdogan’s relation with Mr Putin has only improved. The two have exchanged multiple visits over the last year, and Mr Putin called the Turkish President to wish him a happy birthday two weeks ago. On defence cooperation, Turkey and Russia announced this week they would be holding a joint naval drill in the Black Sea, and joint patrols in northern Syria.

Updated: March 9, 2019 09:17 AM

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