Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar discussed Turkey’s planned purchase of Russian S-400 missile defence systems with the acting U.S. Secretary of Defense, Patrick Shanahan, during a meeting on Wednesday, Turkish state-run Anadolu Agency reported.
Akar "reiterated Turkey’s views and expectations on the proposed Safe Zone in Syria, S-400 procurement, F-35 aircraft and latest developments in the Eastern Mediterranean," a statement on the meeting by Turkey’s defence ministry said.
The S-400 deal, signed with Moscow in December 2017, has pushed in recent months to the forefront of a long list of disagreements between the Turkish and U.S. administrations.
U.S. senators introduced a bill earlier in the month that if passed will require sanctions on Turkish officials involved in the deal and halt the transfer of new-generation F-35 stealth fighter jets to Turkey.
U.S. and NATO officials have repeatedly voiced concerns that the presence of a Russian defence system in a NATO-allied country could lead to data breaches allowing Russia to improve its air defences against the F-35 and other aircraft.
Bloomberg quoted Shanahan saying the S-400s were “incompatible” with the sale of F-35 jets on Tuesday.
However, Turkish officials including Akar have stressed that the S-400 purchase is a done deal that will not be cancelled.
Turkey is ready to take delivery of the systems as soon as June, Saudi newspaper Asharq al-Awsat quoted Akar as saying on Tuesday.
And while reports that Ankara was considering storing the S-400s in Azerbaijan or Qatar to sidestep the F-35 problem, Akar appeared intent on deploying the systems within Turkey.
The defence minister put forth İncirlik , the airbase in southern Turkey used as an important regional base by the U.S. Air Force, as one possible location for the S-400s, also suggesting Istanbul, Ankara, and an undefined “industrial area”.
Akar said this would keep the Russian systems separate from the F-35s, which he said would be deployed in the eastern Turkish province of Malatya.
The defence minister added that F-35 fighters are set to be deployed in Israel and eastern Europe in areas close to existing S-400 batteries.
On Monday, Turkish Finance and Treasury Minister Berat Albayrak discussed the deal with President Donald Trump at the White House, later describing the U.S. president’s “positive and constructive approach” to the S-400 deal.