President Trump and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan will meet later this month to discuss a possible sale of U.S. Patriot missiles, a talk which could help heal a rift between the two nations over Ankara’s decision to buy a Russian air defense system, according to the Turkish leader.
Erdogan told Reuters in an interview published Friday that his close relationship with Trump could mend the tensions after the NATO ally in July took delivery of the Russian-made S-400. U.S. officials fear the system could be used to gather intelligence on the American-made F-35 fighter jet. Turkey had been set to buy the jet, but has since been barred from that purchase.
The State Department had hoped to sell the Raytheon-made Patriot missile defense system instead to Ankara to avert any issues, but such a deal has since expired.
Erdogan said that he had discussed a Patriot buy in a phone call with Trump two weeks ago, and that the two would further discuss a deal when they meet at the United Nations General Assembly, starting next week.
“I said no matter what package of … S-400s we get, we can buy from you a certain amount of Patriots,” Erdogan told Reuters. “But I said we have to see conditions that at least match up to the S-400s.”
“He said: ‘Are you serious?’ I said: ‘Yes’,” Erdogan said.
Turkish officials have said in the past that they’d be willing to buy Patriots over the S-400 if the United States offers a deal that includes the system’s sensitive missile technology. But Washington has not budged on such a request, causing Turkey to reject it.
The S-400 sale has since caused the Trump administration to terminate Turkey’s participation in the F-35 program. Turkey was one of nine partner countries involved in the program and was to eventually buy at least 100 of the advanced stealth aircraft.
The deal with Russia also raised the prospect of U.S. sanctions on Turkey as part of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, congressional sanctions that penalize U.S. partners that buy Russian military equipment.
The administration is still deciding whether it will impose those sanctions, according to R. Clarke Cooper, the assistant secretary for political-military affairs at the State Department.
Turkey is “not out of the woods on an imposition of sanctions. That is still at play,” Cooper told reporters on Thursday.
Erdogan said that he was confident the two countries could avoid a “mistake,” of further sanctions, pointing to “a different kind of trust” between him and Trump.
“In my opinion a country like the USA will not want to hurt its ally Turkey any more. This is not a rational behavior,” he said.