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US offers 'alternatives' to lift S-400 sanctions on Turkey

Ankara says the US is offering nothing new as Joe Biden's administration makes first diplomatic trip to Turkey
Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems move through Red Square during the Victory Day military parade in Moscow on 9 May 2021 (AFP)
By Ragip Soylu in Ankara

The US has presented "alternatives" to Turkey in order to lift sanctions imposed on the country over the acquisition of Russian-made S-400 missile system, a senior US official said on Friday.

"We have offered alternatives to Turkey, they know exactly what to do if they want to get out from underneath these sanctions," US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said in an interview with CNN Turk.

"I hope that we can find a way forward."

Sherman's statement came as she visited Ankara this week in the first such diplomatic trip made by a member of the Biden administration.

Washington imposed sanctions on Turkish officials in December 2020 under a US law that bars significant military transactions with Russia. Turkey was also removed from the fifth-generation F-35 fighter jet programme by the Pentagon in 2019 due to concerns over possible Russian espionage through the S-400s.

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"Turkey is well aware of the steps it needs to take," Sherman said in televised remarks.

"We have talked about ways to take them, and this will be a decision for Turkey to take."

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However, a Turkish official told Middle East Eye that Sherman had not brought forward any new proposals.

"They still want Turkey to move the S-400 systems out of the country or return it," the official said.

Multiple Turkish officials said in the past that Ankara wasn't considering the removal of the system from the country since it was a done deal and there was no turning back. However, Turkey has yet to fully activate the S-400 system, in order to prevent any escalation with Washington.

US Congressional legislation last year conditioned the removal of US sanctions on removal of the system from Turkey. It was speculated in the past that Ankara could move the S-400 to Azerbaijan or Qatar as a way out of the crisis yet these claims have not materialised since the Turkish government is still pushing for a technical committee to co-habit S-400s and F-35s.

The Turkish official said that the meeting between Sherman and Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Onal that took place on Thursday was cordial and comprehensive. The official added that it was meant to prepare the ground for a meeting between President Joe Biden and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in June on the sidelines of a Nato summit in Brussels.

Biden last month declared the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman forces during World War I a genocide in a move that further strained the already tense relationship between Washington and Ankara.

Erdogan has not announced any retaliatory moves so far but warned that the June meeting would be a turning point for US-Turkey relations and he could trigger countermeasures if the meeting doesn't go well.

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