OSAKA (BLOOMBERG) - US President Donald Trump said Turkish President Recep Erdogan was treated unfairly by the Obama administration when he sought to buy an American anti-aircraft missile system, and that he'd discuss sanctions the US has threatened if Turkey goes ahead with a Russian purchase instead.
"They wouldn't let him buy the missile he wanted to buy, which was the Patriot," Mr Trump told reporters on Saturday (June 29) in a meeting with Mr Erdogan on the sidelines of the Group of 20 (G-20) summit in Osaka, Japan. "You have to treat people fairly. And I don't think he was treated fairly."
Mr Trump's statement isn't accurate. The US has sought to sell Ankara the Patriot air-defence missile since at least 2013, but Mr Erdogan has insisted it come with a transfer of technology so that Turkey can develop and build its own missiles. The Obama administration declined.
Turkey at first sought a Chinese missile system instead of the Patriot, but that deal also fell through over technology-transfer conditions. It's doubtful the Russians have agreed to provide Turkey much technology behind the S-400, their most advanced air-defence system.
The US has threatened to sanction Turkey if it proceeds with installing the S-400 system. Asked about the sanctions, Mr Trump said: "We're discussing it. We're looking at different solutions," he said.
The White House issued a statement after Mr Trump's meeting with Mr Erdogan suggesting the US President took a harder line with his Turkish counterpart once reporters left.
"The president expressed concern about Turkey's potential purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defence system, and encouraged Turkey to work with the United States on defence cooperation in a way that strengthens the Nato alliance," the White House said.
In a statement following talks between Mr Trump and Mr Erdogan, the Turkish presidency said the American leader told his Turkish counterpart that he wanted the issue over Ankara’s procurement of air defence systems to be resolved without damaging bilateral ties.
The Turkish presidency said Erdogan had voiced concerns about US actions that may harm the strategic partnership between the two Nato allies.
Mr Erdogan said earlier at a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin that there is no setback to the agreement on delivery of the S-400.
"I believe the eyes have turned to the delivery process and there is no disruption on our agreement on that front," Mr Erdogan said. "For us the priority is to move it forward with joint production and technology transfer."
Washington argues that integrating the Russian system into Nato's second-largest army could help Moscow gather critical intelligence on the stealth capabilities of the next-generation F-35 fighter planes, which Turkish manufacturers help build.
Mr Erdogan dismissed the US argument and said Turkish military experts were good at deciding what to purchase.
US sanctions could hurt the Turkish economy and create severe strains between Washington and a crucial Middle East partner, which relies on it for arms.