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Erdogan says Turkey will not change position on acquiring Russian S-400 defense missiles

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Turkey will not change its position on acquiring Russian S-400 missile defense systems, over which the United States imposed sanctions on Ankara.

The Turkish leader said on Thursday that he had made the remarks during his first meeting with US President Joe Biden in the NATO summit in Brussels early this week, state Anadolu news agency reported.

Erdogan also said he had further told Biden on Monday that Turkey, a NATO member state, would not change course on acquiring American F-35 stealth fighter jets.

“I told (Biden) that they should not expect Turkey to take a different step on the F-35 and S-400 issues because we did what we had to for the F-35s and gave the necessary money,” Erdogan told reporters in the Azerbaijani capital Baku, referring to his recent face-to-face meeting with Biden at the NATO summit.

“We must monitor developments closely. We will be following up on all our rights. In the next period, our foreign ministers, defense ministers, and defense industry chairs will be moving this process forward by meeting with their counterparts,” he added.

Erdogan said it was a “historic mistake” for the US to favor the “terrorist groups” that Turkey is fighting against, instead of siding with its ally that is being targeted by terrorism.

Turkey views the US-backed People's Protection Units (YPG) in northern Syria as a terrorist organization tied to the homegrown Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has been seeking an autonomous Kurdish region in Turkey since 1984.

Turkey has had a military presence in northern Syria, despite strong protest from Damascus, for the past two years in a declared attempt to push Kurdish militants affiliated with the YPG away from its borders.

Back in April 2018, Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin said in Ankara that they had agreed to expedite the delivery of the S-400. At the time, it was said that the delivery could be made between late 2019 and early 2020.

A number of NATO member states have criticized Turkey, arguing that the S-400 missile batteries are not compatible with those of the military alliance and that they may threaten the US F-35 fighter jets. Turkey, however, rejects the claims.

In mid-July last year, the US removed Turkey from the F-35 fighter jet program over the advanced Russian S-400 missile defense systems, infuriating Ankara. 

In December, Washington moved further and imposed sanctions on Ankara over the S-400 missiles. The Turkish government denounced the move as a “grave mistake” that would inevitably harm mutual relations and threatened retaliation.

Turkey has also offered to guard and operate the Afghan capital’s airport after American and NATO forces withdraw. 

According to NATO’s head Jens Stoltenberg on Monday, Turkey would play a key role in post-NATO Afghanistan. However, he added that no decision was made at the summit.

“Following the US decision to withdraw from Afghanistan, Turkey can take up a lot more responsibilities here,” Erdogan further said on Thursday, without elaborating.

Last week, the Taliban militant group announced that Turkey should withdraw its forces from Afghanistan under the 2020 US pullout deal, effectively rejecting Ankara's proposal over the Kabul airport. 

In April, the militant group also refused to take part in a peace conference on Afghanistan hosted by Ankara.

Nevertheless, the Turkish leader said Ankara would continue talks with the Taliban over the matter.

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