The Turkish president says he will discuss with his American counterpart Donald Trump a possible purchase of US-made Patriot surface-to-air missile systems in an upcoming meeting.
In an exclusive interview with Reuters published on Friday, Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that he had raised the issue in a phone call with Trump two weeks ago, and that they would further talk about a Patriot deal during a meeting at the UN General Assembly later this month.
He also noted that his close relationship with Trump could mend tensions over Ankara’s purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defense systems.
The S-400 sale has raised the prospect of US sanctions on Turkey and led the administration of US President Donald Trump to exclude Ankara from its F-35 stealth fighter jet program.
“I said no matter what package of … S-400s we get, we can buy from you a certain amount of Patriots,” Erdogan said. “But I said we have to see conditions that at least match up to the S-400s.”
“He (Trump) said: ‘Are you serious?’ I said: ‘Yes’,” he added, stressing that he told Trump they would discuss it in greater detail when they meet.
Patriots are designed primarily to take out ballistic missiles, not aircraft, unlike the dual-use Russian S-400 systems.
Trump will avoid ‘mistake’ of sanctions on Turkey
Elsewhere in his interview, Erdogan was asked whether he would request Trump to prevent the US Treasury imposing a heavy fine on Turkey’s Halkbank for violating anti-Iran bans.
The Turkish president said he was confident they could avoid a “mistake” of further sanctions, pointing to “a different kind of trust” between himself and Trump.
“In my opinion a country like the US will not want to hurt its ally Turkey any more. This is not a rational behavior,” he added.
Turkey warns gates will open for Syrians to Europe
Additionally, Erdogan reiterated a warning that Turkey would be forced to let Syrian refugees leave for Europe if Western countries fail to provide greater support to Ankara and back its plan for a Syria safe zone stretching from the Euphrates River to the Iraq border. The area is under the control of the US-backed Kurdish militants, who are considered terrorist by Ankara.
Erdogan complained that the European Union’s financial aid to Turkey was not sufficient to ease the burden of 3.6 million Syrian refugees.
“If you can’t accept this business, we will open the gates. Let them go from there wherever they want,” he said.
He further criticized the US for supplying arms to the Syrian Kurdish militants.
“It is Turkey which is fighting with these terror groups… We are your partner in NATO. You give them the weapons for free that you will not sell for money to your NATO ally,” he said. “We are fed up with explaining this… I think Trump must understand us.”
The Turkish leader also defended the Syria safe zone plan, saying it would allow the Syrian refugees in Turkey “to return to their lands, and allow for all their needs – from education, health, shelter – to be met. It will allow them to live on their own lands and break away from the tent life and container cities.”
“The peace corridor is the essential thing. We will not allow a terror corridor on our borders and we will take whatever steps necessary on this subject,” he pointed out.