Turkish officials say Ankara is evaluating the US offer but it had not changed its plans on Russian S-400 systems.
The United States has offered to sell Turkey its Patriot missile defence system if Ankara promises not to operate a rival Russian system, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said, in what he called a significant softening in Washington’s position.
Two Turkish officials told Reuters News Agency that Turkey was evaluating the US offer but added that Ankara had not changed its plans for the Russian S-400 systems, which it has said it had activated the S-400.
NATO allies Turkey and the US have been at odds over Ankara’s purchase last year of the S-400s, which Washington says are incompatible with the alliance’s defence systems.
After heavy fighting in northwestern Syria’s Idlib region this year, Turkey asked Washington to deploy Patriots along its border with Syria for protection.
But the US said Turkey could not have both the S-400s and the Patriots.
Speaking to reporters on his return flight from Brussels, Erdogan said Ankara had told Washington to deploy Patriot systems to Turkey and that it was ready to buy the systems from the US, as well.
“We made this offer to the United States on the Patriot: If you are going to give us Patriots, then do it. We can also buy Patriots from you,” he said.
“They also softened significantly on this S-400 issue. They are now at the point of ‘promise us you won’t make the S-400s operational,'” Erdogan added.
Previous talks between Turkey and the US on the purchase of the Patriots have collapsed over a host of issues, from the S-400s to Ankara’s dissatisfaction with Washington’s terms. Turkey has said it will only agree to an offer if it includes technology transfer and joint production terms.
While ties between Ankara and Washington have been strained, the US has offered support for its ally as it battles to stop Russia-backed Syrian government advances in Idlib.
But US officials said on Tuesday Ankara had to clarify its position on the S-400s for their security ties to advance.
US special representative for Syria James Jeffrey and US Ambassador to Turkey David Satterfield told reporters on a conference call from Brussels that Washington was discussing with NATO what support it can offer Turkey militarily.
Jeffrey also said they had considered possible responses should Russia and the Syrian government break a ceasefire in Idlib, officials said.
He suggested other NATO states could individually or as an alliance provide military support to help Turkey.
While Erdogan has frequently referred to the S-400 purchase as a “done deal” and said Turkey would not back away from it, he did not repeat that stance in his comments on Tuesday.
“The United States has once again brought up the Patriot offer. The United States’ previous strong stance isn’t the case any more. They are approaching Turkey more empathetically now,” a senior official said.
“The core condition is that the S-400s are not activated, or in other words, they are not unboxed. This offer is being evaluated, but there is no change of stance on the S-400s,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Another Turkish official told Reuters the latest offer by Washington also included Turkey’s return to the F-35 stealth fighter jet programme, which Ankara was involved in both as manufacturer of plane parts and customer for the jets.
“There is a US offer for Patriots, but this offer includes the F-35s,” the Turkish official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“Air defence systems can be purchased, but Turkey’s conditions are clear: there has to be issues like the know-how transfer and joint production.”
Under a US law, known as Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), purchase of defence equipment from Russia could invite sanctions. However, the president can opt to issue a waiver.
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