Turkey says US distorted meeting, but Pompeo stands by account

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Turkey on Thursday accused the US State Department of making false claims about rows during a meeting between the top US and Turkish diplomats, but Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he stood by the account.

The NATO allies are at odds over issues including US support for a Syrian Kurdish militia viewed as terrorists by Ankara and Turkey’s purchase of a Russian missile system over US objections.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held talks on Wednesday during the Turkish official’s visit to Washington as part of 70th-anniversary celebrations of the NATO alliance.

The US State Department said Pompeo had warned Ankara of “potentially devastating consequences” if Turkey launches an offensive in Syria and urged the “swift resolution” of legal cases involving US citizens and US mission employees under investigation in Turkey.

Pompeo also pressed Cavusoglu about Turkey’s plans to buy the S-400 missile defense system from Russia, which Washington has warned could put Ankara at risk of US sanctions, the State Department said in a statement.

But Cavusoglu questioned on the issue by reporters in Washington insisted “I was there... such language was never used, on Syria particularly they never mentioned such things about unilateral actions from Turkey.”

He backed up earlier comments by his foreign ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said the US readout “not only fails to reflect the content of the meeting but also contains matters that were not even raised during the said meeting”.

It was not clear what “matters” Aksoy was referring to in his statement and foreign ministry officials were not immediately available for comment. Aksoy said similar problems had arisen after previous talks, and urged statements to be prepared with “greater care”.

Pompeo, asked by reporters about the Turkish comments, insisted that the State Department account was accurate. “I’ve re-read the readout of our meeting. Spot on. Stand by every word of it,” Pompeo said.

Pompeo said he believed that Turkey “understands the American position quite clearly” but said he was hopeful of resolving issues. “There are great opportunities for the United States and Turkey to work closely together,” he said.

“I had a good, long conversation with the Turkish foreign minister yesterday and I am very confident we’ll find a path forward.”

Ties have been frayed recently by Ankara’s purchase of Russian S-400 missiles, which US officials fear have technology that will allow Moscow to gather data from NATO aircraft.

The US wants Turkey to instead opt to buy the US Patriot system. Washington responded earlier this week by suspending Turkey’s participation in the F-35 fighter-jet program, in which Turkey has invested over $1 billion.

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