US and Turkey to form “working group” on S-400 but no breakthrough yet
US defence officials stressed on Friday that Ankara acquiring the S-400 constitutes an “unacceptable risk” for Washington
The United States and Turkey appeared to be making slow progress toward untangling the S-400 Russian missile defence system standoff, by agreeing to form a working group as a first step in what Washington hopes would ultimately prevent Ankara from acquiring the Russian weaponry in July.
On Friday, Bloomberg, quoting US and Turkish officials, reported that US “President Donald Trump agreed with Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan to form a joint study group on the Russian S-400 missile defence system” during their phone call on Wednesday.
A Turkish official said the group would jointly examine “any risks the system poses to the next-generation F-35 jet” and a US official expressed confidence that the “group’s findings will support the US position that deploying the Russian system would put the fighter plane at risk.”
Forming such a group was at Turkey’s request but it has not materialized in a breakthrough on the issue.
On Friday, Turkish officials insisted that there will be no delay in the S-400 deliveries scheduled to arrive in July.
A US defence spokesperson told The National on Friday that “robust discussions continue with our Turkish counterparts…however we have been clear that purchasing the S-400 would create an unacceptable risk.”
He warned that “its radar system could provide the Russian military sensitive information on the F-35 [aircrafts].”
The official was firm that “those concerns cannot be mitigated” and said Turkey’s participation in the F-35 program has been discussed if it acquires the S-400.
Congressional laws such as the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) will immediately slap sanctions on Turkey - a NATO member - if the S-400 equipment is delivered.
Another Senate bill under consideration would block F-35 deliveries to Turkey and oust it from the production consortium over the Russian deployment.
Aaron Stein, the director of the Middle East at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, told The National that the working group neither signals a change in US terms nor implies a breakthrough.
“You can’t will into existence a process that one side rejects, the United States isn’t negotiating here. It’s made it’s terms very clear,” Mr Stein argued.
Absent of a delay in S-400 delivery, the expert saw no alternative for Congress except to implement sanctions.
“We really are in the danger zone and talk shops won’t really help,” he said.
Mr Erdogan held a phone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday, and US defence secretary Patrick Shanahan is gearing up for talks with his Turkish counterpart Hulusi Akar to find a path forward according to Reuters.
Reuters also reported this week that Washington was seriously considering suspending training for Turkish pilots who are already in the US on the F-35 jets if the S-400 issue is not resolved.
But in another good gesture, Turkey this week released US citizen and former NASA scientist Serkan Golge. Mr Trump welcomed the move.
Updated: June 1, 2019 03:33 AM