Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Picture: AFP/ADEM ALTAN
Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Picture: AFP/ADEM ALTAN

Ankara — The Pentagon has disputed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s observation that Washington has “softened” its stance on Ankara’s purchase of a Russian missile-defence system.

Turkish media on Tuesday cited Erdogan as telling reporters that the US had “softened quite a bit” and just wants Ankara to “promise us you won’t activate the S-400s”.

The Pentagon said that was not the case.

Turkey “is not going to receive a Patriot battery unless it returns the S-400”, Pentagon spokesperson Jonathan Hoffman told reporters on Tuesday, referring to Ankara’s request to buy a US missile defence system.

US defence secretary Mark Esper’s view has been clear on the topic all along, Hoffman said.

Erdogan has said Turkey plans to activate the S-400s in April. A chief US concern is that the S-400 could be used to collect intelligence on the stealth capabilities of the American F-35 fighter jet.

Unless the two countries can reach an agreement, the US Congress is likely to impose sanctions on Turkey “in the not-so-distant future,” according to David Satterfield, an acting assistant secretary of state. He said support would be bipartisan.

US President Donald Trump, an admirer of Erdogan’s, has so far refrained from employing legislation that would allow him to slap sanctions on any country that makes a sizeable arms purchase from Russia. But a US senate committee recently approved a bill that includes a provision to enforce that legislation, which could set in motion the freezing of Turkish assets, restriction of visas and limits on access to credit.

That would spell further trouble for Turkey’s economy, which is still recovering from a recession that followed a crash in the lira after a separate diplomatic spat with Washington in 2018.