Turkey said it will send home Russian missile experts overseeing the S-400 air defense technology that has strained ties with the United States, addressing one of Washington’s concerns with the system.
The remarks, which come ahead of a planned meeting between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his US counterpart Joe Biden on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Brussels mid-June, signal Ankara’s readiness to compromise on one element of US concerns.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the system would be under Turkish control when the experts leave.
However, he reiterated Ankara would not budge on Washington’s broader demand to abandon the missiles in order for related US sanctions to be lifted.
“The S-400s will be under our 100 percent control. We’ve sent many technicians for training. The Russian military experts won’t stay in Turkey,” Cavusoglu said on a visit to Greece.
But he rejected US calls on Turkey not to activate the missiles. “It is not possible to accept calls from another country to not use them,” he stressed.
Ankara had submitted a roadmap to Washington in order to resolve outstanding bilateral issues, he said, noting that it is currently being reviewed.
“There are outstanding issues between Washington and Ankara, topped by the Russian S-400 missiles, the US support for the Kurdish People’s Protection Units in Syria and Fethullah Gulen’s Hizmet (Service) Movement, as well as Biden's recognition of the Armenian genocide.”
The US administration is willing to establish good ties with Turkey through dialogue and joint cooperation, either under through NATO or bilaterally, Cavusoglu explained.
Two US delegations have visited Ankara, during which intelligence, military and political senior figures from both sides held talks.
Ankara and Washington have been at odds over issues including Syria policy, human rights and the S-400 air defense acquisition, over which the US has sanctioned Turkey and removed it from its F-35 fighter jet program.
In March, Cavusoglu and Antony Blinken held their first face-to-face meeting since the US State Secretary took office.
“We may discuss differences with Washington and what future steps to take on strategic topics by establishing a bilateral working group,” he said back then. “We need to work on a roadmap.”