Russia missile deal

Turkey pins hopes on Trump to avoid sanctions

Published: April 19, 2019 22:26:09

A file photo showing US President Donald Trump (left) talking with Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan during the opening ceremony of the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) summit, at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium recently — Reuters

Turkey's hopes of avoiding punishing US sanctions over its purchase of a Russian air defence system appear increasingly pinned on intervention from Donald Trump, but the president has little leeway to counter Ankara's many critics in Washington, reports Reuters.

The two NATO allies have argued for months over Turkey's order for the advanced S-400 missile defence batteries, which Washington says are incompatible with the Western alliance's defence network and would pose a threat to US F-35 stealth fighter jets which Turkey also plans to buy.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and several prominent US senators have warned Turkey it will face penalties for buying the S-400s under legislation which calls for sanctions against countries procuring military equipment from Russia. Turkey says as a NATO member it poses no threat to the United States and the sanctions should not apply.

Resolving the dispute could allow the two governments to turn the corner on years of tense relations. The stakes are higher for Turkey, which is mired in recession after a separate US diplomatic dispute last year sparked a currency crisis that has echoed in recent weeks as ties have again frayed.

Two months before the first batch of S-400s could arrive in Turkey, a team of senior Turkish ministers visited Washington this week for talks aimed at easing the crisis, culminating in an unexpected Oval Office meeting with the president.

"We are getting signals that Trump pursues a more positive attitude than Congress," a senior Turkish official told Reuters. "There might certainly be some steps to be taken but the search for common ground will continue."

Acting US Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan told reporters on Thursday: "We're closer" to a final decision on the S-400s after a meeting with his Turkish counterpart. "It's like: 'OK, where are we stuck? How do we get unstuck?" he said.

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