WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Turkey needs to “get rid of” the Russian S-400 missile defense system it purchased, a senior State Department official said on Thursday, to overcome a standoff with Washington, which says the procurement poses a threat to NATO defense capabilities.
Ankara and Washington have been at loggerheads over Turkey’s purchase of the S-400 system, which Washington says is not compatible with NATO defenses and poses a threat to its F-35 stealth fighter jets.
U.S. President Donald Trump hosted his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan at the White House last week for a meeting, which Trump described as “wonderful.” However, it was not clear if the two NATO allies made any breakthrough on the S-400 impasse.
“There is room for Turkey to come back to the table. They know that to make this work they need to either destroy or return or somehow get rid of the S-400,” the official told reporters at a briefing.
The United States earlier this year suspended Turkey from the F-35 program, which it was a buyer and producer of, to punish it for its purchase of the Russian systems and warned of possible U.S. sanctions over the deal, although it has yet to impose them.
During last week’s meeting, Trump told Erdogan that Ankara needed to drop the S-400 system and that in return, U.S. was ready to sell Ankara U.S. Patriot systems.
But Erdogan, upon his return to Ankara, said he told Trump during talks that Turkey would not give up on the Russian S-400 missile defenses and cited strong ties with Moscow.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he was aware of Erdogan’s recent comments.
“They (Turkey) know that they have the choice to move forward and the choice is to rid themselves of the S-400 so that we can move forward,” he said, and added that the risk of U.S. sanctions, under Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), was still a possibility.
“The timeline on CAATSA sanctions is not prescribed or absolute,” he said, adding that it took Washington nine months to impose sanctions on China under the same law over Beijing’s purchase of Russian fighter jets.
Ankara began receiving the S-400 system last July but it is not yet operational.
Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; editing by Bill Berkrot and Bernadette Baum