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U.S.-Turkey Rift Centers On Russian Missile Defense System


The United States is pressuring Turkey not to buy weapons from Russia. Some of Turkey's highest officials came to Washington this week. They met with President Trump. They know the Trump administration does not want a vital U.S. ally buying a Russian missile defense system. But the Turks are hoping President Trump will take their side. NPR's David Welna reports.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Turkey is set to install Russia's S-400 missile defense system. American officials say if that happens, the Russian system could spy on the fleet of F-35 jet fighters that Turkey wants to buy from the U.S. Last week, at his Senate confirmation hearing to be U.S. ambassador to Turkey, diplomat David Sattersfield (ph) was blunt when asked what his message to Turkish officials would be.

DAVID SATTERFIELD: That if they proceed with the acquisition of the S-400, then they will not be able to participate in the F-35 program.

IBRAHIM KALIN: S-400 will come to Turkey. The agreement has been signed.

WELNA: That's Ibrahim Kalin, spokesman for Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He says a technical commission should be set up to see if the Russian missile defense system really does threaten the F-35s.

KALIN: We are not planning to integrate S-400s into the NATO defense system. So the concern about, you know, having access to sensitive data about F-35s, et cetera - if that's the main argument, it doesn't seem to hold up.

WELNA: And Kalin added that Turkey's counting on President Trump to override any sanctions the U.S. may impose.

KALIN: Of course we will expect President Trump to use his power for a waiver on that issue because threats and sanctions and the like will be counterproductive. It will backfire. It will not produce any results positively.

WELNA: Turkey's presidential spokesman said the Russian system will be installed within the next two or three months. If that happens, says the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs, retired Admiral Mike Mullen...

MIKE MULLEN: It's really high risk to them. I think it's really high risk to the relationship - our relationship with Turkey - and really high risk to how NATO sees this as well.

WELNA: And that might even risk Turkey's membership in NATO. David Welna, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF NECRO'S "REFUSE TO LOSE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Welna
David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.