No Angst Over Tur­key Air De­fense Deal With Rus­sia


CRAIOVA (Reuters) - NATO ally Tur­key is not seek­ing to an­tag­o­nize the U.S.-led al­liance by pur­chas­ing Rus­sian S-400 sur­face-to-air mis­siles and is in talks with France and Italy to buy sim­i­lar weapons, NATO Sec­re­tary-General Jens Stoltenberg said.

Ankara’s de­ci­sion to buy the Rus­sian sys­tem has been seen in some Western cap­i­tals as a snub to the al­liance, given ten­sions with Moscow over Ukraine and Syria, while the deal raised con­cern be­cause the weapons can­not be in­te­grated into NATO de­fenses.

But Stoltenberg said it was a sov­er­eign de­ci­sion and that he had talked it through with Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Tayyip Er­do­gan.

“There hasn’t been any re­quest from Tur­key to in­te­grate the S-400 into NATO air de­fense sys­tem,” Stoltenberg told Reuters in an in­ter­view on a Bel­gian mil­i­tary plane re­turn­ing from Ro­ma­nia late on Monday.

“I spoke with Pres­i­dent Er­do­gan when I met him in Septem­ber. I said that the kind of ca­pa­bil­i­ties dif­fer­ent na­tions want to ac­quire is a na­tional de­ci­sion,” he said of the S-400 sys­tem that Tur­key has made an ad­vance pay­ment for and hopes to see de­liv­ered in 2019.

Stoltenberg stressed that top Turk­ish of­fi­cials, as well as Er­do­gan, had told him Ankara re­mained a strong NATO ally.

That was de­spite the S-400 is­sue and a dis­pute with Ger­many over Er­do­gan’s ar­rest of Ger­man na­tion­als as part of a mass purge fol­low­ing last July’s failed coup bid.

Stoltenberg said Ankara was ready to brief its al­lies in the U.S.-led 29-mem­ber bloc on the rea­sons be­hind its de­ci­sion to buy the S-400 sys­tem.

Er­do­gan has blamed NATO coun­tries for fail­ing to pro­pose a vi­able al­ter­na­tive to the long-range Rus­sian mis­siles, but Stoltenberg said Er­do­gan was now talk­ing to Paris and Rome for sim­i­lar sys­tems, a move the al­liance chief wel­comed.

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