Turkey says buying S-400 vital to ‘protect our 82mn citizens’

The Turkish defense minister has said that buying Russian S-400 air defense systems is a matter of necessity, vital for the protection of the country’s population.

Speaking to the Anadolu agency editors’ desk, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar confirmed the deployment of the Russian-made systems will begin in October. He doubled down on defending Ankara’s decision to buy the S-400s, maligned in Washington.

We have to protect our 82 million citizens.

Turkey has been defying warnings from the US, a fellow NATO member, which has been trying to dissuade Ankara from procuring Russian-made weapons. Those attempts have ranged from threatening to punish Turkey under the Countering American Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) or review F-35 fighter jet sales, to saying that the S-400s are incompatible with NATO systems.

Also on rt.com ‘We aren’t slaves’: Erdogan defies US pressure over S-400 deal with Russia, says S-500 may follow...

Akar said while Turkey is fulfilling all of its NATO obligations, the alliance is not doing enough for Turkey’s protection, and thus the country needs air defense systems from elsewhere.

The US has also been trying to pressure India into ditching its S-400 deal with Russia. New Delhi has said the issue is not up for discussion.

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Pentagon threatens Turkey with ‘grave consequences’ for buying Russian S-400

The US has threatened Turkey with “grave consequences” unless it cancels the purchase of S-400 systems from Russia, with a Pentagon spokesman advising Ankara to seek “better solutions” and warning of “broader implications.”

“Turkey’s acquisition of the Russian S-400 air defense system will have grave consequences for the US defense relationship with Turkey,” Pentagon spokesperson Eric Pahon told Ahval news on Monday.

The US ally’s plan to buy the S-400 has been a major concern for the entire NATO alliance, with Washington claiming that its deployment alongside US-made weaponry, such as the F-35 stealth jets, undermines the alliance’s ‘interoperability’ and could reveal ‘secrets’ to Russians. Amid persistent pressure and threats of sanctions, the Trump administration last month temporarily halted the transfer of 100 F-35 jets to Turkey.

Also on rt.com Talks on Patriot missiles get rocky, no step back from deal with Russia – Erdogan...

Turkey for its part refused to bow to US pressure, insisting that diversifying military spending was crucial to national security. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last week expressed his hope that Washington would “change its mind.” Yet the US continues its consultations with Ankara to help it “find better solutions,” and inform it of the “broader implications of purchasing Russian S-400s,” Pahon stressed.

Also on rt.com Turkey still keen to get Russia’s S-400 missiles despite rival US offers – top MP

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Russia, Iran & Turkey talk long-term Syrian peace in Sochi as US and allies beat war drums in Warsaw

Leaders from Russia, Turkey and Iran have descended on the Black Sea city of Sochi to discuss ways of ending Syria’s near-eight-year civil war. Meanwhile, hostile talk is emerging from a meeting of the US and its allies in Warsaw.

Ahead of the talks, the Kremlin said the purpose of the convention would be to discuss potential “joint steps” that can be taken to bring about a “long-term settlement” in the war-torn country.

In addition to the joint forum, President Vladimir Putin is also holding separate talks with Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iran’s Hassan Rouhani.

Also on rt.com ‘Dead on arrival’: US kicks off Iran summit in Poland, but where are those key European allies?...

Speaking at the start of his meeting with Putin, President Erdogan said there was still uncertainty over Washington’s plan to remove troops stationed with Kurdish forces in northern Syria. However, he added that Turkey was willing to move ahead with coordinating a possible ‘safe zone’ with Russia.

9th tête-à-tête in the last year. They meet ahead of 4th summit on later on Thursday. Focus on crisis

Both Iran and Russia have been key allies in helping the Syrian government to defeat Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS). NATO-member Turkey also has a keen interest in Syria. In 2016, Turkish-backed Syrian militias seized two border crossings and now control a strip of Syrian land as deep as 30km. The grab was considered a bid to contain the Kurdish militias of the YPG, a group seen as terrorists by Erdogan, preventing them from expanding further along the Turkish-Syrian border.

The Sochi summit comes as countries allied to the US are in the Polish capital for two days of meetings. Organized under a similar theme of bringing “peace and stability to the Middle East,” the talks have been seen as a way for US President Donald Trump to drum up support among European and Arab allies for further action on Iran.

Meanwhile, the Israeli leader has been even more blunt. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said Israel and Arab countries are in talks “in order to advance the common interest of war with Iran,” although the translation from Hebrew was later downgraded to “struggle.”

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Turkey: US Backing Venezuela Interim President 'Means Chaos'

Turkey reiterated support for the president of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

Thursday Turkey Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu reiterated support for President Nicolas Maduro, and stated that recognizing the opposition-controlled National Assembly's President Juan Guaido - as the new head of the Venezuelan state - will bring chaos to the Latin American country.

RELATED: Venezuela Cuts Relations with United States Over Coup Support

"The United States and some Latin American countries have recently been interfering in the internal affairs of Venezuela. There is an elected president, but the speaker of the parliament has declared himself president and some countries have recognized this. This very strange situation can lead to chaos," Cavasoglu said during an interview with Turkish AHaber TV channel, as reported by UrduPoint News.

"We are against the isolation of countries. The United States is continually interfering in Venezuela's domestic affairs," he declared and reiterated his support for President Maduro.

PCRoberts:”So now Venezuela has 2 presidents. One elected by the people, and one appointed by Washington. How long before Washington does this to Russia, China, Iran, Syria, Turkey, India?”

Cavusoglu also disclosed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's call to his Venezuelan counterpart to express Turkey's solidarity with the Bolivarian Republic.

"My brother Maduro! Stand tall, we stand by you," Erdogan said, according to Ibrahim Kalin, spokesperson for the Turkish Presidency.

Turkey reiterates opposition for Juan Guaido, who has declared himself as interim president of Venezuela.

Vice President Fuat Oktay also attended President Maduro's investiture on Jan. 10, further aligning support - along with other countries such as Russia and Mexico - for the government of Venezuela.

Turkey is an important supplier, of food and other goods, to Venezuela and has also begun to refine and certify Venezuelan gold.

In addition, both countries announced cooperation projects for the exploitation of coal and gold, last year.

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Trump says he will 'devastate Turkey economically' if it attacks Kurds

President tweets blunt warning over Syria troop pullout, drawing a swift response from Ankara.

Donald Trump has warned Turkey of economic devastation if it attacks Kurdish forces in the wake of the US troop pullout from Syria, while also urging the Kurds not to “provoke” Ankara.

“Will devastate Turkey economically if they hit Kurds,” Trump tweeted, while pushing for the creation of a 20-mile ‘safe zone’. He then added: “Likewise, do not want the Kurds to provoke Turkey.”

Trump did not detail who would create, enforce or pay for the safe zone, or where it would be located.

He called the Syria pullout “long overdue” but said the US would still hit “the little remaining Isis territorial caliphate hard, and from many directions. Will attack again from existing nearby base if it reforms.”

“Russia, Iran and Syria have been the biggest beneficiaries of the long term US policy of destroying ISIS in Syria – natural enemies. We also benefit but it is now time to bring our troops back home. Stop the ENDLESS WARS!”

The posts drew a swift response from Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin. “Mr @realDonaldTrump It is a fatal mistake to equate Syrian Kurds with the PKK, which is on the US terrorists list, and its Syria branch PYD/YPG,” spokesman Ibrahim Kalin wrote on Twitter.

“Terrorists can’t be your partners & allies. Turkey expects the US to honor our strategic partnership and doesn’t want it to be shadowed by terrorist propaganda,” he said.

Trump’s Twitter posts on Sunday were the the latest in the slow drip-drip of information being released by his administration after his shock December announcement of a troop withdrawal.

Trump’s top diplomat, Mike Pompeo, is on a whirlwind regional tour aimed at reassuring Washington’s Kurdish allies in the fight against Isis. They fear the departure of American troops would allow Turkey to attack them.

Turkey had reacted angrily to previous suggestions that Trump’s plan to withdraw troops was conditional on the safety of the US-backed Kurdish fighters, who are seen by the Turkish government as terrorists.

US-led operations against Isis in Syria have been spearheaded on the ground by the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

Ankara sees the backbone of that alliance, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), as a terrorist group linked to the Kurdistan Workers party (PKK) which has fought a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state.

On Saturday, more than 600 people were evacuated from the remaining Isis holdout in eastern Syria, a monitor said, as US-backed fighters prepared for a final assault on the area.

Rami Abdel Rahman from the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said several dozen jihadist fighters were among those evacuated to areas held by the Kurdish-Arab alliance.

Abdel Rahman said 16,000 people, including 760 Isis fighters, had fled the area since the start of December, though this marked the first time the SDF and the coalition provided buses, suggesting a deal struck between the warring sides.

The United Nations said on Friday 25,000 people had fled the violence over the past six months as jihadists defend their dwindling bastions.

An estimated 2,000 civilians remain trapped in the area around the town of Hajin, the United Nations said.

The US-led coalition on Saturday fired more than 20 missiles against jihadist positions, the observatory said.

The monitor said 300 SDF combatants had deployed near the village of Sousa in preparation for a final assault.

Agence France-Presse and Reuters contributed to this article

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Russia, Iran & Turkey agree to launch Syrian constitution committee by January

Top diplomats from Russia, Turkey and Iran have agreed to ensure that a 150-strong committee to draft a new Syrian constitution will convene for the first time early next year as they wrapped up a meeting in Geneva on Tuesday.

“We have agreed to take efforts aimed at convening the first session of the Syrian constitution committee early next year. These steps will lead to the launch of a viable and lasting Syrian-owned, Syrian-led, UN-facilitated political process,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in a statement following the meeting hosted by UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura.

Also on rt.com Sochi or Vienna: Which peace plan offers best solution for Syria?

The agreement, which could pave the way for political reconciliation in the war-ravaged country, was struck between Lavrov, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.

The creation of the 150-member body was first envisaged during a UN-backed summit in Sochi last January, which reinvigorated the stale Geneva peace process. However, efforts had been without a major breakthrough due the parties’ inability to agree on the composition of the committee.

READ MORE: Putin & Erdogan agree Idlib buffer zone to avert new Syria crisis

The body will consist of 50 representatives from the Syrian government, 50 representatives from the opposition, and the remaining 50 are intended to be “independent” delegates of civil society chosen by the UN.

The latter has become a bone of contention, with Damascus reportedly opposing some of the candidates.

The list has not been finalized as of yet, but the trio of Russia, Turkey and Iran is nearing a mutually acceptable solution, Cavusoglu said after the meeting.

READ MORE: West cries foul over humanitarian crisis in Idlib, which isn’t even happening – top Russian diplomat

“As guarantor states, we are working together with the UN on this issue. We are gradually moving towards the finish line,” he said.

Cavusoglu stated earlier that Turkey will work with Syrian President Bashar Assad if he remains in power after “very credible, transparent, democratic and fair” elections are carried out, which is the ultimate goal of the constitutional committee.

It was hoped that the committee would convene before Mistura, who is stepping down in December, leaves his post. Speaking after the meeting, the outgoing special envoy wasn’t overly optimistic, however, saying that “there is an extra mile to go” before having a balanced and credible body tasked with drafting a constitution.

 
FILE PHOTO: Bodrum Airport, Turkey, August 5, 2008

Meanwhile, the US – which has so far been wary of the possibility of intra-Syrian reconciliation – seems to be taking a less hawkish approach, with its special representative in Syria, James Jeffrey, recently saying that it doesn’t want to topple Assad anymore.

“We want to see a regime that is fundamentally different. It’s not regime change – we’re not trying to get rid of Assad,” Jeffrey said at the Atlantic Council meeting on Monday.

This doesn’t mean that the US has actually abandoned its plans to dislodge the Syrian president, however, according to Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma. Instead, it would merely prefer to do so without spilling blood.

“The Americans are counting on this committee’s constitution change and [the] election overseen by the UN, which will change the regime peacefully and bring about a peaceful settlement in America’s favor,” he argued.

Landis predicted that since this is “unlikely to happen,” the US will maintain a presence in Syria until it occurs.

“That could mean that America is an open-ended force in Syria,” he said.

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Photo Exhibition in Turkey Remembers Fidel

The mayor of the Turkish district of Kadikoy, in Istanbul, and Cuban ambassador to Turkey inaugurated on Sunday a photo exhibition about Fidel Castro, on the second anniversary of his death.

The municipal councilor, Aykurt Nuhoglu, referred to Fidel as the leader of the Revolution and its people', stressing the importance of passing his legacy on to the future generations, and drew a parallel with the founder of the modern Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

He praised Cuba's advances in the fields of education, culture and art, thanks to the revolutionary process led by Fidel, and also cited the important social advances that women experienced in gaining responsibilities and rights on the island.

Nuhoglu criticized the long economic blockade that the United States applied against Cuba, which still maintains all its harshness, and regretted that the current administration in Washington decided to abandon the process of normalization of bilateral relations between the two countries.

Cuban diplomat Luis Alberto Amoros thanked the mayor for celebrating this act of tribute to the historic leader of the Revolution and explained to those present the importance of Fidel's legacy at a time when a process of constitutional reform is taking place on the island.

Liliam Mendoza, parliamentarian and representative of the Young Communist League, and Marta Carvajal, journalist and director of Mundo Latino, members of the delegation that will participate in the Cuba Week organized by the solidarity movement in Turkey, were also present at the presentation of the photographic exhibition.

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"They Got Rid Of Khashoggi's Body By Dissolving It": Top Turkish Official

Ankara: The body of journalist Jamal Khashoggi was "dissolved" after he was murdered and dismembered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul a month ago, an advisor to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Friday.

The claim echoed what a Turkish official had told the Washington Post -- for which Khashoggi was a contributor -- that authorities are investigating a theory the body was destroyed in acid.

Highlights

  1. Authorities investigating theory that his body was destroyed in acid
  2. "Body cut up because it was easier to dissolve": Turkish officer
  3. Saudi Arabia has faced international condemnation over the killing

"We now see that it wasn't just cut up, they got rid of the body by dissolving it," Yasin Aktay, an advisor to Erdogan and official in Turkey's ruling party, told the Hurriyet newspaper on Friday.

"According to the latest information we have, the reason they cut up the body is it was easier to dissolve it," Aktay said.

Saudi Arabia has faced a torrent of international condemnation over the killing of the royal insider-turned-critic.

Turkey's chief prosecutor on Wednesday confirmed for the first time that Khashoggi was strangled as soon as he entered the consulate on October 2 as part of a planned hit, and his body was then dismembered and destroyed.

"They aimed to ensure no sign of the body was left. This is what is understood from the prosecutor's statement, said Aktay, who was close to the journalist.

"Killing an innocent person is one crime, the treatment and extent of what was done to the body is another crime and dishonour."

The Turkish official quoted by the Washington Post said that "biological evidence" found in the consulate's garden indicated the body was likely disposed of near where Khashoggi was killed.

"Khashoggi's body was not in need of burying," the official told the US newspaper on the condition of anonymity.

Saudi authorities have denied Turkish police permission to search a well in the consulate's garden, but did allow them to take water samples for analysis, according to local media reports.

The murder has placed strain on the decades-old alliance between the United States and Saudi Arabia and tarnished the image of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom's de facto ruler.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Thursday it may take "a handful more weeks" before Washington has enough evidence to impose sanctions on the individuals responsible.

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