"If US is to take weapons out of Syria, they can, but if they won't, give them to Turkey, not terrorists," President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said during a Turkish TV interview on Wednesday. It's the latest moment wherein Turkey's president has lashed out at Washington, and comes amidst tensions over the United States objecting to Russian S-400 anti-air defense systems being transferred to Turkey. Of that contentious debate, for which the US has held up delivery of F-35 stealth jets purchased previously by Turkey, Erdogan said emphatically, "this is over".
He affirmed the Russian deal had already been inked with the first delivery expected in July. "We are an independent Turkey, we are not slaves," he said to Turkish broadcaster Kanal 24. Thus it appears the imminent transfer of the S-400s is a done deal, perhaps also sealing future years of permanently damaged US-Turkey relations, especially as at the same time Turkey rejected the recent US offer to sell American-made Patriot defense systems.
The advanced Russian-made S-400 air defense system purchased by Turkey has been seen as a threat by the United States, given the potential for compromising the F-35 advanced radar evading and electronics capabilities.
The main argument for blocking the F-35 transfer is the fear that Russia would get access to the extremely advanced Joint Strike Fighter stealth aircraft, enabling Moscow to detect and exploit its vulnerabilities. Russia would ultimately learn how the S-400 could take out an F-35.
Meanwhile, the chief of US European Command, Army General Curtis Scaparrotti, told Congress on Tuesday that delivery to Turkey of Lockheed Martin's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter should ultimately be cancelled if Turkey moves ahead with buying the S-400 systems from Russia. But it appears Erdogan's "this is over" comment was directed at the continued congressional debate.
"We're done, this is over," Erdogan said during the interview. "The deal has been finalized."
#CANLI Başkan @RT_Erdogan: S-400 konusunu biz bitirdik. Artık konuşmanın anlamı yok. Gerek Putin ile gerek Rusya ile bütün bunlar konuşuldu, anlaşıldı, imzalar atıldı #BaşkanÖzel https://t.co/VHYOZkOp1n pic.twitter.com/kvaOeVEdw5— Star Gazetesi 🇹🇷 (@stargazete) March 6, 2019
Erdogan further warned Washington to cease from coercion or "disciplinary measures" in the form of sanctions or restrictive trade measures, noting Turkey has considered potential retaliatory measures.
His somewhat comical and ironic remarks that US forces should hand over its weapons to Turkey and "not terrorists" also appeared a veiled threat as the Pentagon continues preparations for a broad troop draw down, however, leaving some 400 to 500 military advisers in place to support Kurdish-led SDF forces.
Erdogan repeated prior statements suggesting the "deep state" is preventing Trump from a full withdrawal. Indeed just this week Trump voiced a full reversal in perspective, telling Congress in a White House letter he now agrees "100 percent" in keeping troops in Syria, though it's unclear what this will now entail in terms of numbers.
In the interview Erdogan praised Trump's prior "firm stand" on seeing US withdrawal through but noted, "There's a established order in the US," that prevents Trump from acting. "We can also call this 'deep state.' They block these steps," Erdogan said.
Last month Erdogan asserted provocatively that NATO and the US give arms to "terrorists" but not to Turkey, referencing US-backed Syrian Kurds.
"What kind of NATO alliance is this?" Erdogan said on Monday during an election campaign rally in southwestern Turkey's Burdur region.
"You give terrorists around 23,000 truckloads of weapons and tools through Iraq, but when we asked, you won't even sell them to us," he added.
"We have a 911-kilometer border [with Syria]. We're under threat at any moment." — Erdogan during a Feb. 18, via Al Jazeera
Of course, the deeper and central irony of Erdogan's quip over weapons going to terrorists is revealed in the fact that both Turkey and the US played key roles in fueling the rapid rise of ISIS especially from 2012-2014, given both were allowing tens of thousands of foreign jihadists to pour across the expansive Turkey-Syria border, all the while putting American weapons in the hands of the opposition insurgency as part of a covert program to topple Assad.