Turkey expects Donald Trump to ask Congress to waive sanctions that would be triggered by its purchase of a Russian air defence system, a senior Turkish official has said, amid mounting tensions between the Nato allies over the acquisition.
In a show of defiance in the face of growing US demands to cancel the order of an S-400 system from Moscow, Ibrahim Kalin, a top aide to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said that Mr Trump had the power to exempt Turkey from punishment.
“We expect President Trump to use the power he has to intervene on that issue,” Mr Kalin told reporters at a briefing in Washington. Mr Kalin was part of a delegation of senior Turkish ministers and officials participating in an intensive round of diplomacy in the US capital.
As part of the delegation, Berat Albayrak, Turkey’s finance minister and Mr Erdogan’s son-in-law, visited the White House on Monday, where he met with Mr Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner, as well as Steven Mnuchin, US Treasury secretary.
Mr Albayrak told reporters that the US president had “listened in a very reasonable way with a positive understanding to the process regarding Turkey’s needs for the S-400s”, according to the Turkish broadcaster CNN Turk. “There was a very positive, constructive conversation,” he said.
US administration officials have repeatedly warned Turkey, a Nato member, that proceeding with the S-400 purchase would lead to penalties under the Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act, which was passed in 2017 partly to ensure that Mr Trump could not take a soft stance on Moscow.
But Mr Kalin said that Mr Trump could seek a waiver for Turkey.
He declined to say whether Mr Trump had explicitly offered to ask Congress for such an exemption, but claimed that the US president had told Mr Erdogan in a phone call that he would “personally try to find a way to resolve the issue”.
He added: “We believe it would be counterproductive to apply sanctions to Turkey.”
US officials have long warned that Ankara’s purchase of an advanced missile system from Moscow would compromise the security of Nato allies. In particular, the Pentagon is concerned that the Russian system would be able to collect sensitive data on the F-35, a sixth-generation stealth fighter jet that is currently being rolled out across Europe.
Tensions have escalated as the delivery date for the S-400 approaches. Turkish officials say that they expect it to arrive in July.
As well as threatening to impose sanctions, the US has moved to block Turkey from receiving its order of F-35 jets and has begun work to remove Turkish-made components from the aircraft supply chain.
While Turkey has insisted that it would not back down from the planned purchase, Turkish officials said they were still in discussions about an offer from Washington to buy a Patriot air defence system produced by American defence giant Raytheon.
“We have said we are ready to buy the Patriot system,” said Mr Kalin. “The one thing blocking that deal is the [US] precondition that the S-400 will be scrapped and announced publicly.”
Mr Kalin argued that the S-400 defence system did not pose a security threat to the US or Nato, and that Turkey had told the US it was willing to set up a “technical committee” to investigate any threats posed by the S-400 to US defence technology.
Mr Kalin said that Turkey was “not planning to integrate the S-400s into the Nato defence system”, but confirmed that the S-400s “would come to Turkey”.
The prospect of fresh US sanctions has caused deep alarm among international investors who are still scarred by last summer’s spat between Mr Trump and Mr Erdogan over the detention of an American pastor.
The US president imposed sanctions on two Turkish ministers and raised steel and aluminium tariffs in a bid to free the jailed pastor, triggering a meltdown in the Turkish lira.
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