Turkey’s calculations on S-400s assume Trump is a deal maker - analysis

Turkey’s calculations on the heightened tensions between Ankara and Washington over its plans to acquire Russian S-400 missile systems are based on the assumption that U.S. President Donald Trump is a deal maker and can reverse policy, the Jerusalem Post said on Wednesday.

Acting U.S. Secretary of Defence Patrick Shanahan has sent a letter to Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar last week which said Turkey’s participation in the F-35 programme would end as of July 31 unless Turkey withdraws from its planned purchase of Russian S-400 defence systems.

Turkey has not yet responded to the letter, Akar said on Wednesday, adding that Ankara found the contents of the letter contradictory to the spirit of alliance.

Senior officials in Ankara, including the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, have repeatedly said that Turkey would not renege on plans to buy S-400 systems, which Washington says could collect data on NATO military operations and undermine their defences.

Citing unnamed Turkish officials, Turkish pro-government daily Yeni Şafak reported on Sunday that Ankara did not regret losing the F-35 programme and had already devised up alternative plans to replace stealth fighter jets.

“To sit at the table with Russia for the acquisition of military aircraft is among the options. The security bureaucracy is also exploring Chinese J-31s, along with Russian Su-57s,” the daily said.

Without mentioning its sources, Habertürk said on Monday that a nine-member Russian team would visit Turkey on June 27-28 for the first implementation of S-400 missile systems, adding that the S-400s would be placed on Turkey’s southeastern and Mediterranean borders.

If Trump approves the establishment of a joint working committee Turkey proposed to discuss compatibility of S-400 batteries with NATO systems, Ankara might have a stronger hand against Moscow for cancelling the S-400 deal, Habertük said.

“But this is Ankara putting on a brave face,” the Jerusalem Post said in relation to reports on Turkish media.

“Turkey’s final calculations are that Trump is a deal maker. If the price is right, maybe there is still a deal,” the daily said referring to the U.S. president’s businesslike approach.

Ankara thinks eventually U.S. policy makers will opt for a close alliance with Turkey and as a result Turkey will purchase S-400s and the July 31 deadline will be forgotten, the Jerusalem Post said.

According to the daily, the United States cannot unwind the F-35 programme until 2020, by which time Trump may forget about F-35 issue due to approaching U.S. elections.

“The question is if the Pentagon will forget,” the Jerusalem Post said.