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Trump refuses to criticize Turkey over acquisition of S-400 missile system

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump has refused to criticise Turkey for acquiring Russian missile system as opposed by the Pentagon and NATO.

Trump said that his predecessor Barack Obama forced Ankara to go for the Russian missile system.

In his first comments since Turkey began taking delivery of the S-400 system last Friday, Trump said that he understood Ankara’s compulsions to opt for the Russian missiles.

“I’ve had a good relationship with President (Recep Tayyip) Erdogan,” Trump told journalists.

“It’s a very tough situation that they’re in and it’s a very tough situation that we’ve been placed in … With all of that being said, we’re working through it – we’ll see what happens,” he said without making any mention of sanctions Washington had threatened over the purchase.

Trump called it a “complex situation,” noting that the Pentagon has suspended Turkey from participating in the NATO F-35 fighter jet production programme and from buying planned 100 F-35s.

“Because they have a system of missiles that’s made in Russia, they’re now prohibited from buying over 100 planes. I would say that Lockheed isn’t exactly happy. That’s a lot of jobs,” Trump said, referring to the F-35 manufacturer.

Following his meeting with the president of the United States during the G20 summit in Japan last month, the Turkish leader claimed that Trump had assured him that Washington would not impose sanctions on Ankara. But Erdogan’s claims were not confirmed by the US administration.

Trump’s comments appeared to put him at odds with Congress and the Pentagon’s view, that placing the S-400 system alongside the F-35 was a threat to the US and NATO air systems.

“Turkey has been a long-standing and very capable NATO ally, but their decision on the S-400 is the wrong one and it’s disappointing,” Mark Esper, Trump’s nominee as secretary of defence, told the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier on Tuesday.

“Acquisition of the S-400 fundamentally undermines the capability of the F-35 and our ability to maintain that overmatch in the skies,” Esper said.

Esper said he had already told Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar that his policy is, “You can either have the S-400 or the F-35. You cannot have both.”