ANKARA (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday U.S. sanctions imposed on Turkey over its purchase of Russian defence systems were a “hostile attack” on its sovereign rights and defence industry, and the move was bound to fail.
Washington slapped the sanctions on NATO member Turkey’s Defence Industry Directorate (SSB), its chief Ismail Demir and three other employees on Monday over its acquisition of Russian S-400 missile defence systems.
In his first public comments on the move, Erdogan said problems stemming from the sanctions would be overcome and vowed to ramp up efforts towards an independent defence industry, while criticising Washington for punishing a NATO ally.
“What kind of alliance is this? What kind of partnership is this? This decision is an open hostile attack on our country’s sovereign rights,” he said in a televised address.
“The real goal is to block the advances our country started in the defence industry recently and to once again render us absolutely dependent on them (United States),” he added.
“Surely there will be problems, but each problem will push open a door for us for a solution.”
Turkey says its purchase of the S-400s was not a choice, but rather a necessity as it was unable to procure air defence systems from any NATO ally on satisfactory terms.
Washington says the S-400s pose a threat to its F-35 fighter jets and to NATO’s broader defence systems. Turkey rejects this and says S-400s will not be integrated into NATO. On Wednesday, Erdogan repeated that the U.S. concerns had no technical basis.
He said Ankara still produced close to 1,000 parts for the F-35 jets, despite being removed from the programme over the S-400 purchase. Turkey had also been due to buy more than 100 F-35 jets.
The sanctions come at a delicate moment in the fraught relations between Ankara and Washington as Democratic President-elect Joe Biden gears up to take office on Jan. 20, replacing Republican incumbent Donald Trump.
Erdogan’s Communications Director, Fahrettin Altun, said the sanctions would be a burden for Biden but that Ankara believed Washington would reverse “this grave mistake without delay”.
Altun added that the sanctions made Washington look like an unreliable ally within NATO.
“This crisis will go down in history…books as a failure of U.S. diplomacy. For the United States, which we see as an important ally, to experience such an eclipse of the mind, despite our efforts to protect our mutual interests on the basis of equality, is a loss for them,” he told Aksam newspaper.
Erdogan said last week he would discuss strained ties with Washington once Biden enters the White House.
Ending his remarks, Erdogan unveiled footage of Turkey’s new domestic missile defence system, HISAR-A+, which he said had been delayed due to an embargo on a part Turkey was importing. He did not say which country Turkey was importing from.
(Writing by Daren Butler and Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Dominic Evans)