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Obama-era defence secretary urges Biden to take tougher stance on Turkey

Robert Gates says recent sanctions are a 'good start', but more must be done to pressure Washington's Nato ally
Ankara and Washington's relations over the past few years has suffered setbacks after Turkey purchased the S-400 defence system from Russia.
Ankara and Washington's relations have suffered setbacks over the past few years after Turkey purchased the S-400 defence system from Russia (AFP/File photo)
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Washington

Former US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has urged President-elect Joe Biden to increase pressure on Turkey and praised sanctions imposed by the Trump administration on Ankara over its purchase and subsequent activation of the Russian-made S-400 missile defence system.

In an opinion piece published in the New York Times, Gates said that sanctions were "a good start", but that Biden must go further and even consider taking steps to isolate Turkey from other Nato countries.

"Turkey's purchase of the Russian S-400 air defense system against repeated American warnings must have costs. (Recently imposed sanctions are a good start.)," Gates wrote.

"There is no provision in the NATO Charter for removing a member state, but creative diplomacy is possible, including suspension or other punitive steps."

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Ties between the Nato allies have worsened in recent years due to Turkey's acquisition of the S-400 defence system, along with Turkish actions in Syria, the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and the unrest in the eastern Mediterranean.

Last week, the US imposed sanctions on Turkey over its activation of the S-400 system, targeting Turkey's Presidency of Defence Industries (SSB), as well as its head, Ismail Demir, and three employees.

Turkey has maintained that it only sought the Russian-made system after it tried, without success, to purchase the American Patriot missile defence system.

The US, on the other hand, has said it tried persuading their Turkish counterparts against the sale and repeatedly offered the American system, but those negotiations broke down after Ankara demanded to also obtain proprietary production and operations data about the Patriot system.

"Sanctions are imposed on our country, a Nato member. What kind of an alliance is this?" President Recep Tayyip Erdogan asked during a televised speech last week.

"This decision is an open attack on our sovereignty."

'US needs to take the lead'

Gates, who was appointed by President George W Bush in 2006 and served in the administration of former President Barack Obama until 2011, also criticised Turkey's actions in Libya, Syria and the eastern Mediterranean, where he said Ankara was acting against the interests of other Nato members.

"The United States needs to take the lead in Nato, an 'alliance of democracies,' to devise consequences for member states - such as Turkey, Hungary and, increasingly, Poland - that move toward (or have fully embraced) authoritarianism," the ex-Pentagon chief said.

Gates' opinion piece was published just after Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu vowed to take reciprocal action against the US for its imposition of sanctions.

The Turkish foreign minister said there was still room for improved relations, but they were contingent on a number of factors, including the extradition of US-based cleric Fetullah Gulen, who is accused by Ankara of orchestrating a coup attempt in 2016, and Washington's continued support for the pro-Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) in northern Syria. 

The YPG has long received support from the US, as part of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), to fight the Islamic State (IS) group, but it is opposed by Turkey, which considers the YPG a terrorist organisation.