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Turkey pins hope for Trump to avoid sanctions over Russian missile deal

ANKARA / WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Turkey's hope of avoiding punitive US sanctions on the purchase of a Russian air defense system seems increasingly to depend on Donald Trump's interventions, but the president has little room to address Ankara's many critics in Washington.

FILE PHOTO: US President Donald Trump speaks to Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan prior to the opening ceremony at the NATO NATO Summit (NATO Headquarters in Brussels on 11 July 2018. Ludovic Marin / Pool via REUTERS

The two NATO Allies has argued for months over Turkey's order for the advanced S-400 missile defense batteries that Washington says are incompatible with the Western Alliance's defense network and would pose a threat to the US F-35 stealth fighter jets that Turkey is also planning to buy.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and several prominent US senators have warned Turkey that it will be punished for buying the S-400s according to laws that require sanctions against countries acquiring military equipment from Russia. Member that it does not pose a threat to the United States, and the sanctions should not apply.

Solving the dispute could allow the two governments It is now turning the corner of many years of tense connections. The effort is higher for Turkey, imitated in recession after a separate US diplomatic conflict last year triggered a currency crisis that has echoed in recent weeks as ties have again knocked out.

Two months before the first group S-400 & # 39; arrive in Turkey, a team of senior Turkish ministers visited Washington this week for negotiations aimed at easing the crisis and culminating in an unexpected Oval Office meeting with the President .

"We are told that Trump is pursuing a more positive attitude than Congress," a senior Turkish official told Reuters. "There can certainly be some steps to take, but the search for common ground will continue."

US Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan told reporters Thursday: "We're closer" to a final decision on the S-400's after a meeting with its Turkish counterpart. "It's like," OK, where are we stuck? How do we get unstuck? "He said of the negotiations and added that he was optimistic.

Few details of the White House meeting have emerged, but Turkish media cited Finance Minister Berat Albayrak, son-in-law Taylor Erdogan, who said that Trump had a" positive understanding … about Turkey's need for S-400's. "

Other ministers and officials on the trip, including Turkish defense minister and Erdogan spokesman and national security advisor, said the visit gave Washington the chance to better understand Ankara's view.

Turkey has proposed a joint working group which it believes could help convince the United States that the S-400s do not pose a direct threat to the US military or its jet aircraft.

Deadline for a US counter offer to sell Turkey a discounted patriotic missile defense system was extended earlier this year and remains open according to Turkish and American officials.

But every page has not given anything publicly, Turkey reiterated that the Russian purchase was a "finished deal" and the US administration was warning that S -400 and F-35 could not work in the same room.

"The United States made it clear to the Turkish side that the risk of sanctions is real if they take delivery of the S-400s, "an American official told to Reuters.


Even smaller US sanctions could lead to yet another sharp sales in the Turkish lira, which deepens the recession in the Middle East's greatest economy. After allocating 30 percent of its value last year, the currency is an additional 10 percent and the markets remain on the edge.

Purchase of military equipment from Russia leaves Turkey responsible for US retaliation under a law of 2017 known as the Counters America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, or CAATSA.

To waive any CAATSA sanctions imposed by Congress, Trump by law should show that the purchase of the S-400 was not a "substantial transaction" and that it would not endanger NATO's integrity or adversely affect US military operations.

He also indicated in a letter to the Congress Committees that the agreement would not lead to a "significant negative impact" on US-Turkish cooperation, and that Turkey will take or will take steps over a certain period to reduce its Russian-made defense equipment. and weapons.

Erdogan spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said he had heard Trump's promise in a phone call with the Turkish president two months ago that he would work to find a solution to the problem. Other officials have also portrayed the US President as sympathetic.

The negotiations were "more positive than expected" and the Americans expressed "a softer tone" than they were in the public, another senior Turkish official told Reuters.

Trump has not weighed in on Turkey in recent weeks. Although Turkey has had its support, the common ground may be unclear.

Relationship between the two countries has been strained over several conflicts, including military strategy in the Syrian conflict, Iran's sanctions, and Turkey's requests for Washington to blame an Islamic monastery Ankara for a failed 2016 military coup.

The United States has also become angry at the detention of US nationals in Turkey and three locally recruited US consular staff, one of whom was released in January, and clashes between Erdogan's security officers and protesters during a visit to Washington two years ago. .

These discrepancies have left Erdogan with very few supporters in Congress who could respond to any White House waiver with separate sanctions legislation.

In February, a bipartisan group of US senators introduced a bill on rigid new sanctions against Russia in an attempt to make Trump a stronger approach to counterfeiting in US elections and aggression against Ukraine.

"I don't think it's impossible for Turkey to get a dropout," said Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish program at the Washington Institute. "But Turkey has almost no cheerleaders in Washington, and that's why it would be an uphill battle."

He added: "CATSAA is written with the idea that there should be almost no loopholes. So Trump must find a really good one."

Additional reporting by Phil Stewart in Washington; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing Jonathan Spicer and Mark Potter

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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