U.S. President Donald Trump said on Friday that he did not blame Turkey for buying Russian-made missile systems, a move that Trump responded by halting the delivery of 100 F-35 jets Turkey purchased from the United States.
The Pentagon also announced that it would eject Turkey from the joint production program of F-35 stealth fighters after Turkey started receiving the delivery of S-400 batteries.
Trump met this week with Republican lawmakers to discuss further sanctions that can be imposed on Turkey under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, or CAATSA. There is bipartisan support in the U.S. Congress to take further punitive measures against Turkey.
Before a meeting with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Osaka last month, Trump blamed the former U.S. administration under Barack Obama for pushing Turkey to buy Russian systems by declining to sell Patriot batteries.
“I don’t blame Turkey because there are a lot of circumstances and a lot of … problems that occurred during the Obama administration,” CNBC quoted Trump as saying to reporters at the White House on Friday. “This dates back to the Obama administration, which was a disaster.”
“It’s a tough situation. They’re getting the S-400 and our statues and everything else — as you do that, you just can’t order this equipment,” Trump said. “And generally speaking, you can’t order equipment period.”
Washington is concerned that by activating the S-400 batteries, Turkey will open the way for Russian subterfuge on F-35 stealth fighters.
Senator Lindsey Graham told the Defense One publication on Friday that he was mediating between Washington and Ankara. Graham said he told Ankara that there would be no sanctions if S-400 systems were not activated.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also said that the activation of the Russian systems was a red line for Washington.
“The activation of the S-400 is unacceptable,” he told Bloomberg TV on Thursday.
John Cornyn, one of the 40 senators who met Trump on Tuesday, told Bloomberg that Trump was frustrated by what he saw as a lack of options in dealing with Turkey.
“It was certainly clear that the president is not in a place right now where he wants to impose sanctions on Turkey,” Agence France Presse quoted an assistant to one of the legislators in the White House meeting as saying.