ISTANBUL, Turkey — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday he will use his “good” relationship with US counterpart Donald Trump to try to defuse a crisis between the NATO allies over Ankara’s purchase of Russian missiles.
Erdogan and Trump are due to meet on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan, at the end of June, a month before a US deadline for Turkey to renounce its deal with Moscow for the S-400 air defense missile system.
Washington has said it will cancel its own sale of F-35 stealth jets to Turkey if Anakra goes ahead its purchase of the S-400s.
During a rare foreign media briefing in Istanbul, Erdogan insisted on his affinity with Trump, and drew a distinction between the US president and the administration.
Erdogan said his close relationship with Trump could allow for a favorable outcome to reduce tensions that have poisoned relations between the allies for several months.
“Our relations with Trump are at a level that I would describe as good. We discuss matters when there is a problem, we conduct telephone diplomacy,” Erdogan said.
The Turkish head of state said he would ask Trump during their meeting at the G20 whether he felt sanctions against Turkey were suitable.
“I am sure he does not believe this,” he said.
The two men last met in November 2018 during Armistice Day commemorations in Paris.
Earlier this month, outgoing acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan wrote in a letter to Ankara that Washington would expel Turkish pilots from US training on America’s latest-generation F-35 fighter jets if it did not renounce the deal with Russia before July 31.
Turkey plans to buy 100 US F-35s and its defense industry has plowed significant sums for the manufacture of the warplanes.
The US has also threatened to hit Turkey with sanctions if it goes ahead with the S-400 deal, but Ankara previously said it was prepared for any possible sanctions.
Ties between the NATO allies have been strained over Turkey’s push to buy the system with the US concerned over the system’s interoperability with NATO equipment.
Ankara hit out at the “inappropriate” US ultimatum and earlier this week sent an official response to the US, saying the letter was not “in the spirit of alliance.”
Erdogan repeated his remarks during the weekend that the S-400 was a “done deal” and the system would arrive in the first half of July.
“The positions where those missiles will be deployed have already been decided,” Erdogan added.
Turkey has already sent personnel to Russia for training on the S-400.