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 while ruling out scrapping it altogether.
The remarks, which come ahead of a planned meeting between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President 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. Washington has said Turkey should end the presence of Russian personnel in the country to help with training and assembly of the missiles.
But Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, who said the system would be under Turkish control when the experts left, reiterated Ankara would not budge on Washington’s broader demand to get rid of 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, state-run TRT television reported Monday.
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 said.
Cavusoglu said he would meet US Secretary of State Antony Blinken either in Washington or Ankara before the leaders’ meeting.
Biden and the US Congress have both taken a hard line on Turkey, in part over its acquisition of the Russian S-400 missiles, which Washington says could gather intelligence on Western military capabilities including Lockheed Martin.