In an unprecedented development, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham called Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu with a proposition that could salvage the US-Turkey relationship.
Allegedly, Graham called Cavusoglu on behalf of US President Donald Trump and offered that Turkey could simply “not turn on” the Russian S-400 missile defense system, which it approximately $2 billion for.
Imagine the equivalent of buying a state-of-the-art oven, and then never using it once because your mother-in-law would prefer you to use her old oven, which you must first purchase, at a higher price, and if you don’t – then you need to divorce her daughter.
That’s actually what the situation appears to be – Turkey said the S-400 deal was over. The US offered Patriot at an unacceptable price and under unacceptable terms. Then, upset that Turkey said the S-400 was the best deal they could get and it was finalized, they sanctioned Turkey over it.
“I’m in the camp of, if they don’t activate the S-400, the sanctions don’t have to be applied. My hope is to persuade Turkey not to active the system because it’s so disruptive to the relationship,” Graham told Defense One. “My pitch to Turkey was, let’s stand down on the S-400, let’s start free trade agreement negotiations.”
If Turkey turns on the advanced air defense system, Graham said, the U.S. relationship with NATO ally Turkey “takes a very dark turn.”
Furthermore, according to Defense One some US Senators expressed willingness to implement quick sanctions on Turkey in relation to the purchase and the upcoming activation of the S-400.
But at a private meeting with Republican senators on July 23rd, Trump asked lawmakers for “flexibility” in responding to the purchase, NBC News reported.
After that meeting, Trump “told me to call Turkey,” Graham said.
“I think there’s space to do a free trade agreement if we don’t activate the system,” he said. “If the system gets activated, there are no options left, the [sanctions] law is clear.”
The White House declined to comment.
This is an absurd turn of events, if it did really happen – why would the equivalent of a MP of a country call the Foreign Minister of another country to express the President’s wishes?
And this isn’t the first time it happens, on July 19th, Trump allegedly sent Senator Rand Paul to meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, instead of possibly attending himself or sending US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
“Why Graham? Where’s the secretaries of State and Defense? Isn’t this their job?” said former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, in an email.
As a result of the purchase and delivery of the components of the S-400 missile defense system, Turkey was booted out of the F-35 program, with all its pilots returning home from the US and it being removed from the supply chain.
Some Republicans argued that this was punishment enough and that sanctioning a NATO ally “is a harder question.”
“Maybe you would look at certain sanctions, but I think it’s important not to just go too far in a way that would make it hard for Turkey to reconcile back with the United States and NATO, post Erdoğan. It’s a fine line,” House Armed Services Ranking Member Mac Thornberry said. “Turkey is and continues to be a very important country, a very important NATO ally, we have lots of things that we do with them. You want to send a message, but you don’t want to alienate them forever.”
Defense One cited analyst Andrew Hunter, who was puzzled as to how exactly Graham/Trump’s suggestion could possibly lead to anything.
“I guess I’m not seeing how — ‘They buy it, but they don’t turn it on’ — I’m not sure what problem that’s solving,” said Andrew Hunter, at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “If the message is, ‘we won’t sanction you until you turn it on,’ it could be an effort to play for time” until the U.S. is able to persuade Ankara to return the system to Russia, he suggested — ”but it seems like that’s a bridge that’s already been crossed.”
“And of course,” he noted, “it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense from the Turkish perspective.”
Separately, Russia isn’t wasting any time and offered to sell Turkey Su-35 fighter jets after it was expelled from the F-35 joint strike fighter program.
MORE ON THE TOPIC:
- Russia Offers Turkey Advanced Su-35 Jets Day After US F-35 Program Expulsion
- Turkey Removed From F-35 Program Over Russian S-400 Purchase