"You should not expect Turkey to take a different step on the F-35 and S-400 issues because we did what we had to do for the F-35 and we gave the necessary money," the Turkish president told his US counterpart

Erdogan threatens Biden to stand his ground on S-400s

PHOTO/ Murat Cetinmuhurdar/Oficina de Prensa Presidencial - El presidente turco Tayyip Erdogan se reúne con el presidente estadounidense Joe Biden al margen de la cumbre de la OTAN en Bruselas, Bélgica, el 14 de junio de 2021.

The tug-of-war between Ankara and Washington continues. The meeting between Joe Biden and Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday during the annual NATO summit, although it allowed the two leaders to make initial contact, did not materialise any concrete progress. Indeed, the meeting served as an opportunity for the Turkish president to reaffirm his position on the main dispute that is hampering bilateral relations.

Erdogan revealed the terms of his conversation with President Biden on Thursday. According to him, Erdogan told his US counterpart that Turkey would stick to its position on the acquisition of the Russian anti-missile system, which is at the root of the friction between the two countries, at all costs.

Turkey, a leading NATO member, bought the s-400 air defence system from Russia in 2017 for $2.5 billion. The purchase contravened the terms of the Atlantic Alliance, since, according to its partners, the system is incompatible with those used by the organisation.

Una vista muestra un nuevo sistema de misiles tierra-aire S-400 "Triumph" después de su despliegue en una base militar a las afueras de la ciudad de Gvardeysk, cerca de Kaliningrado PHOTO/REUTERS

However, Ankara claimed that the US offered no alternative. "Regarding the S-400, we asked for Patriots [US missile defence system] and they did not provide it. On the contrary, they withdrew the ones that were deployed at our bases," the Turkish president added.

According to Washington, the linking of the s-400 to the organisation's defence systems would have posed operational security risks, and would have allowed Russia access to data collected by F-35 fighters. 

The United States, a leading member of the transatlantic organisation, demanded that Turkey back off the operation. Despite the warnings, the Erdogan government accepted the first of four S-400 missile batteries from the Kremlin in July 2019.

Under the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, passed in July 2017, any foreign government that cooperates with Russia on defence "will find itself targeted by US economic sanctions".

For this reason, the Trump administration imposed a battery of sanctions on Turkish officials involved in the transaction in December 2017 and removed Turkey from the programme to purchase F-35 fighter jets, in which Ankara was involved as a financier and producer. 

"I told [Biden] that they should not expect Turkey to take a different step on the F-35 and S-400 issues because we did what we had to do for the F-35 and we gave the necessary money," Erdogan told reporters in the Azeri capital during a diplomatic visit.

Erdogan assured that Turkey's position on this issue is irreversible, so he would not push for new measures to satisfy US interests. Ankara argues that there is no conflict between the two, that it has fulfilled its obligations regarding the F-35 and that its suspension of the programme "went against the rules".

el presidente de Estados Unidos, Donald Trump, recibe al presidente de Turquía, Tayyip Erdogan, en la Casa Blanca en Washington, Estados Unidos PHOTO/REUTERS

The Turkish president's announcement contrasts with statements by White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan, who announced after Monday's meeting a joint commitment to "continue the dialogue" on the S-400s and the start of a follow-up by both delegations.

In any case, the anti-missile system acquired by Ankara has not yet become operational. Washington's strategy is to control the S-400s and prevent their activation, Turkish officials told Middle East Eye, which they interpret as an affront to Turkish sovereignty.

Afghanistan, a joint challenge

During Monday's conversation in Brussels, Biden and Erdogan spent 45 minutes alone and more than an hour and a half with their delegations discussing a wide range of geostrategic issues that set the agenda for US-Turkish relations.

Despite the disputes, the line between Washington and Ankara also crosses common fronts. The main challenge is Afghanistan, where the withdrawal of US and allied troops from 11 September opens up an uncertain scenario for the local population, threatened by the growing presence of the Taliban.

Jake Sullivan asesor de seguridad nacional  PHOTO/AP

Turkey's support on the issue was underlined by the offer to manage and protect Kabul's Hamid Karzai International Airport after the withdrawal of foreign forces. However, the Taliban demanded that Ankara withdraw with the remaining NATO forces, and have warned Erdogan not to make a "big mistake". 

The Taliban also refused to participate in a peace conference organised by Turkey in April. Nevertheless, Erdogan reassured his NATO partners that he would continue his negotiations with the Afghan fundamentalist faction and that there would be no problem with the planning of the airport mission.

The US accepted the proposal on Monday, with Biden himself pledging to support Ankara economically and militarily, while NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said on Monday that Turkey would play a key role.

Fotografia de archivo del 25 de julio de 2015 muestra el aeropuerto internacional Hamid Karzai en Kabul, Afganistán PHOTO/AP

"There was a clear commitment from the leaders that Turkey would play a lead role in securing Hamid Karzai International Airport and we are now working on how to execute to get there," Jake Sullivan said in a statement reported by Reuters.

However, the divergence of interests between Washington and Ankara dominates their bilateral relations. In Thursday's remarks, Erdogan called it a "historic mistake" for a country to favour terrorist groups against which its ally is fighting, instead of supporting its ally that is being targeted by terrorism. 

"Those who support terrorist groups and encourage them will sooner or later realise what a big mistake they made," referring to US backing for the YPG in northern Syria to fight Daesh, a Kurdish organisation linked - according to Ankara - to the PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party), which is classified as a "terrorist organisation" by Turkey, the EU and even the US.

In any case, relations between Washington and Ankara have entered a new phase as a result of the foreign policy appeasement strategy initiated by the Turkish government and the new course of action proposed by the Biden Administration. Both sides are trying to bring the two sides closer together, and a period of stability is on the horizon.