U.S. President Donald Trump listens during a cabinet meeting at the White House in Washington, U.S., July 16, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Tuesday signaled reluctance to punish Turkey over its acquisition of a Russian air defense system, saying it was “not fair” that the United States would now be prohibited from selling Ankara billions of dollars worth of F-35 stealth fighter jets.
Trump’s remarks were his first about next steps after Turkey defiantly rebuffed U.S. warnings and started taking delivery of Russia’s S-400 air defense system last week.
“We’re working through it, we’ll see what happens. But it’s not really fair,” Trump told reporters at a Cabinet meeting at the White House.
Trump again appeared to blame his predecessor, Barack Obama, for failing to sell America’s best alternative to the Russian S-400s — Patriot missiles, made by Raytheon Co. He said Turkey was “forced to buy another missile system.”
“Because of the fact that (Turkey) bought a Russian missile, we’re not allowed to sell them billions of dollars’ worth of aircraft. It’s not a fair situation,” Trump said, lamenting the jobs that would be lost.
Speaking across town at his confirmation hearing to become Trump’s defense secretary, Army Secretary Mark Esper told a Senate committee that Turkey could not have both the S-400 and F-35.
Esper said he told Turkey’s defense minister: “You can either have the S-400 or you can have the F-35. You cannot have both.”
Reporting by Jeff Mason, Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali; Writing by Susan Heavey and Phil Stewart; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Leslie Adler