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Turkey says no stepping back from Russian S-400 system

Ankara and Washington launch 'joint mechanism' to look into solving issues between F-35 and S-400 programmes
US President Donald Trump says Turkey's acquisition of S-400 system creates 'serious challenges' for Washington (AFP/File photo)

Turkey on Friday vowed there would be no "step back" from Ankara's controversial purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defence system, despite forming a joint working group with the US seeking to solve the issue.

"There is no question of a step backwards, Turkey will activate the S-400," said President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, in an interview with state broadcaster TRT.

Still, Kalin said a "joint mechanism" working group looking into solving the problems with running the F-35 fighter jets near the Russian system had begun on Friday, AFP news agency reported. 

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The US fears that running the S-400 near American-made fighter jets may compromise the F-35. 

While the US has continuously tried to talk Turkey out of going forward with the S-400, even threatening sanctions, Turkey has been unshakeable in its plans to activate it. 

Tensions were exacerbated in July, when the Russian missile defence systems arrived in Turkey against the US's explicit wishes, resulting in Washington pulling Turkey from the F-35 programme. 

Threat of sanctions

US lawmakers have been pushing legislation that would slap sanctions on Turkey both for its purchase of the S-400 and for its incursion into northeast Syria that began last month. 

On Thursday, one of the Senate bill's backers, Senator Jim Risch, who is also the Republican chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he wanted to put a hold on the bill. 

"Probably it's best we don't pass a sanctions bill at this moment," Risch said during a meeting with reporters in his office on Thursday, Reuters news agency reported.

Risch is one of several Republican senators that US President Donald Trump called to the White House on Wednesday for a meeting with Turkish President Erdogan.

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Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Risch said the Turkish leader had left with a "very, very clear picture" that Turkey would face consequences if it went ahead with the S-400 purchase. 

Trump told reporters after their meeting on Wednesday that Turkey's acquisition of the S-400 system created "serious challenges" for Washington. 

Last month, the US said Turkey would be spared sanctions under a 2017 law if the S-400 system was not turned on, an offer that Turkey refused. 

The American act, known as CAATSA, mandates sanctions for any "significant" purchases of weapons from Russia.

Meanwhile, Erdogan told reporters that Turkey cannot risk its relationship with Russia.

As recent relations between Ankara and Moscow have strengthened, it was announced on Friday that Russian President Vladimir Putin planned to visit Turkey in the first week of January.