WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States is still in talks with Turkey to get Ankara to ‘walk away’ from the Russian missile defense system it bought, a senior State Department official said on Friday, but warned Turkey that the risk of sanctions over the issue persisted.
“There’s still work to get the Turks to walk away from the S400s: be it turn it off, send it back, destroy it, what have you,” the official told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity. “That is still an ongoing issue. We’re talking about re-mediating, re-addressing, reconciling. That’s not off the table.”
Batteries of the S-400 began arriving in Turkey in July but have not yet been switched on, which the U.S. official acknowledged.
NATO allies Turkey and the United States have been at loggerheads over the purchase of the S-400 system, which the United States says is not compatible with NATO defenses and poses a threat to Lockheed Martin’s F-35 ‘stealth’ fighter jet.
Washington has previously warned Ankara that it will face sanctions over the purchase and it has removed Turkey from the F-35 program. The United States has fallen short of slapping penalties on Turkey.
The S-400 issue was part of a broader conversation, the official said, that involved Turkey’s offensive into northern Syria against U.S.-allied Kurdish YPG fighters more than two weeks ago. Turkey halted the incursion this week after the Kurds withdrew from a border region under a U.S.- brokered truce. Ankara also struck a separate deal with Russia to create a ‘safe zone’ in northeastern Syria it has long sought.
“As the President said, you cease fire, we’ll cease sanctions but you’re not out of the woods yet,” the State Department official said.
Washington had slapped economic sanctions on Turkey over its incursion into Syria but President Donald Trump on Thursday said they had been lifted because Ankara halted the offensive.
“We are still working all these other issues that are not yet resolved with Turkey and the risk of CAATSA sanctions is part of that broader set of issues we have with the Turks,” he said, referring to penalties under the U.S. law known as the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act.
U.S. Patriot missiles could still be made available to the Turkish government, he said. Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar on Wednesday told Reuters that Ankara could buy the U.S. missiles and the issue could come up during Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s planned visit to Washington on Nov. 13.
In the Turkish government, “not everybody is President Erdogan,” the U.S. official said. He said there were Turks years ago or months ago saying “we’d rather not put ourselves at risk of Russian influence, we’d rather not put ourselves at risk of isolating ourselves from NATO partners, we’d rather not put ourselves isolating from Washington.”
Ideally, Turkey should never have acquired or received any component of the S-400 system, he said, “but now that that line has been crossed, it’s a matter of how to isolate and compartmentalize that, neutralize it and move forward ... but it’s much more difficult than it was before.”
(This story corrects acronym to CAATSA from CATSAA, paragraph 9)
Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; editing by Grant McCool