The Turkish leader will meet President Vladimir Putin in Russia on Wednesday.
WASHINGTON–Boosting his defiance of the Biden administration, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country still intended to buy a second batch of S-400 missile defence systems from Russia, in a move that could deepen a rift with NATO ally Washington and trigger new US sanctions.
Washington says the S-400s pose a threat to its F-35 fighter jets and to NATO’s broader defence systems. Turkey says it was unable to procure air defense systems from any NATO ally on satisfactory terms.
“In the future, nobody will be able to interfere in terms of what kind of defence systems we acquire, from which country at what level,” Erdogan said in an interview that aired on CBS News’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday.
“Nobody can interfere with that. We are the only ones to make such decisions.”
The United States imposed sanctions on Turkey’s Defence Industry Directorate, its chief, Ismail Demir and three other employees in December following the country’s acquisition of a first batch of S-400s.
Talks continued between Russia and Turkey about the delivery of a second batch, which Washington has repeatedly said would almost certainly trigger new sanctions.
“We urge Turkey at every level and opportunity not to retain the S-400 system and to refrain from purchasing any additional Russian military equipment,” said a State Department spokesperson when asked about Erdogan’s comments.
“We continue to make clear to Turkey that any significant new Russian arms purchases would risk triggering CAATSA 231 sanctions separate from and in addition to those imposed in December 2020,” the spokesperson added, referring to the 2017 Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act. The spokesperson also said the United States regards Turkey as an ally and friend and seeks ways to strengthen their partnership “even when we disagree.”
Before departing New York, Erdogan told journalists that relations with President Joe Biden hadn’t started well despite what he called his good work with previous US leaders during his 19-years at Turkey’s helm.
“I cannot honestly say that there is a healthy process in Turkish-American relations,” state-run Anadolu news agency quoted Erdogan as saying Thursday.
The two leaders didn’t meet for bilateral talks on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. Since Biden’s victory in the US presidential election, they have met only in June at a NATO summit where they discussed the possibility of Turkey securing and operating the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. But that plan has been shelved since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan.
Erdogan also told Turkish media that Turkey would buy new missile defence systems if needed and that it was already developing its own.
The issue is one of several sticking points in Turkish-American relations that also include Turkey’s human rights record, US support for Syrian Kurdish fighters who Turkey considers terrorists and the continued US residency of a Muslim cleric accused of plotting the failed coup attempt against Erdogan’s government in 2016.
Erdogan is scheduled to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin on September 29 in Sochi, Russia.
Erdogan also said that US President Joe Biden had never raised the issue of Turkey’s human rights track record, seen as extremely troublesome by international rights advocacy groups.
Asked whether Biden brought up the issue during their June meeting on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Brussels, Erdogan said: “No he didn’t. And because we don’t have any problems of that nature in terms of freedoms, Turkey is incomparably free.”
Turkey is among the top jailers of journalists, according to figures from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), while Human Rights Watch says Erdogan’s authoritarian rule has been consolidated by the passage of legislation that contravenes international human rights obligations.