Turkey should scrap Russian missile system or face US sanctions — White House official

White House National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said if Turkey does not get rid of the Russian system, it will likely face US sanctions backed by a bipartisan majority in Congress. (File/Reuters)
Updated 11 November 2019

Turkey should scrap Russian missile system or face US sanctions — White House official

  • Trump will confront Erdogan about his decision to buy the Russian S-400 system when they meet this week
  • US says the system is not compatible with NATO forces and could compromise the F-35 fighter jet program and aid Russian intelligence

WASHINGTON: The United States is very upset about Turkey’s purchase of Russian missile defense systems and could impose sanctions on Ankara if it does not “get rid” of them, White House National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said on Sunday.
“Turkey will feel the impact of those sanctions,” O’Brien told CBS’s “Face the Nation” in an interview, referring to penalties under the US law known as the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, which he said would pass Congress with “overwhelming” bipartisan support.
His comments came ahead of a visit by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan to Washington on Nov. 13 to meet US President Donald Trump for likely crucial talks as the two NATO allies have been at loggerheads over a range of issues.
One key disagreement is Ankara’s purchase of the Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missile system, which Washington says is incompatible with NATO defenses and threatens its Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jets.
Despite threats of US sanctions, Turkey started receiving its first S-400 deliveries in July.
In response, Washington removed Turkey from the F-35 program, in which Ankara was a manufacturer and buyer. But so far, it has not slapped any sanctions on Ankara.
Turkey has not yet activated the S-400 batteries it received, and Washington still hopes to persuade its ally to “walk away” from the Russian systems.
“There’s no place in NATO for the S-400. There’s no place in NATO for significant Russian military purchases. That’s a message that the president will deliver to him (Erdogan) very clearly when he’s here,” O’Brien said.
Earlier this month, the head of Turkey’s Defense Industry Directorate said a second S-400 delivery to Turkey may be delayed beyond a planned 2020 timeline by talks on technology sharing and joint production.
The S-400 issue is part of a wider range of disagreements between Turkey and the United States.
Washington was incensed by Turkey’s offensive into northern Syria against US-allied Kurdish YPG fighters last month. Turkey halted the incursion after the Kurds withdrew from a border region under a US- brokered truce


Hagia Sophia verdict seen as Erdogan’s attempt to ‘mask economic failure’

Updated 34 min 1 sec ago

Hagia Sophia verdict seen as Erdogan’s attempt to ‘mask economic failure’

  • President signs decree to reopen heritage site — Roman Empire’s first cathedral — as mosque

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed a decree on Friday to reopen Hagia Sophia, the UNESCO world heritage site that was the Roman Empire’s first Christian cathedral, constructed in the sixth century CE, as a mosque.

UNESCO had previously urged Turkish authorities “to engage in dialogue before taking any decision that might impact the universal value of the site.”

The long-predicted move has been widely interpreted as an attempt to rally conservative nationalist voters around the ruling party and its nationalist coalition partner ahead of snap elections that many have forecast will happen next year. Several commentators, however, doubt the efficacy of the move given that — under the current economic conditions — the majority of the Turkish people are focused on more urgent matters.

Around 55 percent of respondents to a poll conducted by Turkey’s Metropoll in June said the main reason for announcing the reconversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque would be to distract from debates on Turkey’s economic crisis and to boost the government’s hand ahead of a snap election.

Soner Cagaptay of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy said the move is another step in Erdogan’s attempt to impose his “brand of conservative Islam,” in direct opposition to the founder of the Turkish Republic Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s secular revolution.

Muslims gather for evening prayers in front of the Hagia Sophia or Ayasofya, after a court decision that paves the way for it to be converted from a museum back into a mosque, in Istanbul, Turkey, in July 10, 2020. (REUTERS/Murad Sezer)

“Just as Ataturk ‘un-mosqued’ Hagia Sophia 86 years ago, and gave it museum status to underline his secularist revolution, Erdogan is remaking it a mosque to underline his religious revolution,” Cagaptay said.

The reconversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque, regardless of domestic and international criticism, overlaps with Erdogan’s desire to be the “new sultan” of the country, he continued.

“Erdogan is already patronizing the construction of two mosques in Istanbul. He wants to leave a political and religious imprint behind, and Hagia Sophia completes his ‘trilogy’ of mosques,” he said.

But, Cagaptay noted, there is a tactical aspect to the announcement as well.

“As a nativist-populist leader, Erdogan hopes to rally his base by underlining their ‘victim’ narrative — saying, ’How dare these secularists deny us, pious Muslims, the liberty to pray at Hagia Sophia?’” he said.

BACKGROUND

  • The long-predicted move has been widely interpreted as an attempt to rally conservative- nationalist voters around the ruling party ahead of snap polls.

Cagaptay, along with other experts, believes any boost Erdogan may enjoy following the announcement will likely be undermined by Turkey’s ongoing economic challenges, including high inflation and unemployment rates.

Last year, Hagia Sophia drew 3.7 million tourists to its famed dome, rust-colored walls and ornamental minarets. But many believe Erdogan’s latest move will hurt the country’s popularity as a tourist destination.

“Turkey’s global brand as a Muslim-majority society that is open to its Christian past is going to be irreversibly damaged,” Cagaptay said.

“One of the effects of the conversion of Hagia Sophia from a museum into a mosque will be a spike in Islamophobia in the West and elsewhere. Which, of course, Erdogan will then use to his advantage,” Dimitar Bechev of the Atlantic Council tweeted.