Turkey Pulse

Turkey dismisses US threat about buying Russian S-400 air defense system

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Article Summary
Turkey does not appear to be budging from its purchase of S-400 air-defense missiles from Russia despite US threats to cancel delivery of F-35 jets Turkey has ordered.

ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey has brushed off America’s threat to renege on the sale of F-35 fighter-bombers if Turkey goes ahead with its purchase of the Russian S-400 air-defense missiles.

“Turkey buys anything it needs and nobody can intervene,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said today. “If we need S-400s, we will buy them.”

His remarks came a day after US State Department spokesman Robert Palladino told reporters of the consequences of Turkey’s acquiring a Russian weapon that is not compatible with NATO systems. “We have clearly warned Turkey that its purchase of S-400s will result in a reassessment of Turkey’s participation in the F-35 program and risk other potential, future arms transfers to Turkey as well as lead to potential sanctions under the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act,” Palladino said.

The 2017 law, which is intended to punish Iran, North Korea and Russia, prohibits other countries from trading with the Russian arms industry.

Today the US presidential envoy for Syria, James Jeffrey, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Palmer concluded two days of negotiations with the Turkish government in Ankara. A major goal of their visit was to persuade Turkey to cancel its purchase of the S-400s and instead buy the American air-defense missiles known as Patriots. But Turkey has been reluctant to accept the US offer, apparently because it contains no transfer of technology — a key element desired by the Turkish arms industry.

In his remarks to supporters of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Balikesir, Cavusoglu came close to insulting the State Department envoys and spokesman, saying the Turkish government was not concerned about what US officials say.

“What concerns us is what [President Donald] Trump says about this because the interlocutor of our president is Trump,” Cavusoglu said.

The foreign minister did not address what Turkey would do if the United States cancels the delivery of the F-35 aircraft. He did not even mention the F-35s, according to media reports.

Instead he seemed to be addressing the domestic audience, stressing that Turkey is an independent country that follows its own path.

“If there is a need, we will buy from whomever we want,” Cavusoglu said.

He also pointed to the fact that some NATO countries already have Russian air-defense systems. If the Americans have a problem with Turkey’s purchase of S-400s, he asked rhetorically, “Why aren’t they looking at NATO members that have S-300s?” (These include Greece and Slovakia.)

In a separate news item today, the respected daily Cumhuriyet devoted its main story to the bizarre case of a state lawyer who had led the prosecution of a major newspaper, Sozcu, and rose to become chief prosecutor of a large town … despite having been convicted of bribery and abuse of office 17 years ago.

Prosecutor Asim Ekren seemed to have lived a charmed life since his crime in 2002. His sentence was reduced twice, and his conviction seemed to have been forgotten as he was steadily promoted. However, in December, days after he took office as chief prosecutor of Buyukcekmece, a town outside Istanbul with a population of 380,000, somebody in the Justice Ministry stumbled on his previous conviction. He was demoted to ordinary prosecutor in a regional court.

Cumhuriyet wrote: “We tried to phone Ekren, but we could not reach him no matter how hard we tried.”

Ekren’s story began when he was a prosecutor in the remote, southern province of Osmaniye in 2002. According to Cumhuriyet, he interrogated two men charged with sexually abusing a child. After ordering their detention, he visited them in jail and offered to close their case if they bought him a Renault Clio and gave him a certain sum of money.

The newspaper reported that one of the accused complained to the Ministry of Justice. Osmaniye Criminal Court 1 convicted Ekren of corruption and abuse of office. It sentenced him to one year’s imprisonment, a fine and suspended him from the civil service for three months.

Later a court reduced his sentence to 10 months’ imprisonment, a fine and suspended him from the civil service for two months and 15 days. The newspaper said the judge decided to be lenient on the grounds that the bribe had not been paid.

A third court reduced the sentence further by canceling the prison term and ordering Ekren to pay a fine and serve a suspension of two months and 15 days. The Supreme Court confirmed this sentence on Sept. 23, 2004, Cumhuriyet reported.

The Justice Ministry assigned Ekren to Karabuk, a town on Turkey’s northern coast, and in 2015 it promoted him to the prosecutors’ office in Istanbul.

It was in Istanbul that Ekren led the state’s case against Sozcu, now the third biggest-selling newspaper in Turkey, accusing it of links to Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, the alleged mastermind of the 2016 coup attempt.

Cumhuriyet, like Sozcu, is a pro-opposition newspaper that is waging its own court battle against the government. Fourteen of its journalists and managerial staff have been convicted of terrorism in a case that is widely cited internationally as an abuse of justice intended to intimidate the press. The case is on appeal.

On Dec. 4, Ekren was appointed chief prosecutor of Buyukcekmece. But two weeks later his bribery conviction was noticed in the Ministry of Justice and he was demoted.

Cumhuriyet said that “questions about how Ekren was protected during these years, and how he managed to work as a chief prosecutor, have not been answered.”

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Jasper Mortimer is a South African-trained journalist who works for France24 TV and GRN. While traveling the world, he was waylaid in the Middle East, married a Turkish woman and settled in Ankara in 2007. He covers the Kurdish issue, the Syrian war and Cyprus.

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