Trump to confront Erdogan on purchase of Russian air defense system

By Rishika Dugyala

President Donald Trump plans to confront President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey this week about his country’s decision to defy NATO and buy a Russian air defense system, a senior White House official said on Sunday.

National security adviser Robert O’Brien said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that “we’re very upset” about Turkey’s decision to purchase the Russian S-400 system, which the U.S. has said could aid Russian intelligence and threaten a vital American aircraft, the F-35 fighter jet. If Turkey doesn’t get rid of the system, O’Brien said, the country will “feel the impact” of sanctions passed by a bipartisan majority in Congress.

“There’s no place in NATO for significant Russian military purchases,” O’Brien said. “That’s a message that the president will deliver to him very clearly when he’s here in Washington.”

His comments come days before Erdogan is scheduled to visit the White House and hold a joint news conference with Trump. The two NATO allies have clashed lately on issues from Turkey’s buying the S-400 system to its invading northern Syria after U.S. troops began their withdrawal there.

After outraged reactions to the invasion from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, Trump announced sanctions on Turkey, but he removed them after a cease-fire was agreed. Even other NATO allies have chimed in, with President Emmanuel Macron of France saying on Thursday that the organization is suffering a “brain death” because of a lack of American support and resolve.

“You have partners together in the same part of the world, and you have no coordination whatsoever of strategic decision-making between the United States and its NATO allies. None,” Macron told The Economist. “Strategically and politically, we need to recognize that we have a problem.”

Still, O’Brien said “cracks … have formed” in NATO because not all members are “paying their fair share” — an issue Trump is very strict on. Asked whether Turkey committed war crimes during its military operation, O’Brien replied, “Some of the things we’ve seen are very disturbing.”

“Turkey has assured us that those are being investigated,” he said, adding: “The U.S. won’t stand by for it and — and we’ve made that position very clear to the Turks.”

In addition to Erdogan’s visit, Trump is scheduled to meet with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg next week.