During an Iftar session in Ankara, the Turkish Minister of Defense, Hulusi Akar, met with leading media representatives. The minister made a number of important statements on issues such as the threats Turkey faces in the region, the fight against terrorism, the country’s need for its own air defense system and the purchase of Russian S-400 systems.
Below are the most significant excerpts from Akar’s speech:
THE PROBLEM OF IDLIB: 3.5-4 million people live in the Idlib region. On September 17, with my Russian colleague Mr. Shoygu, we signed a Memorandum of Understanding on the creation of a 15–20-kilometer security zone and the withdrawal of militants of the Hay’at Tahrir al–Sham group from the region. Employees of the National Intelligence Organization and employees of the Armed Forces demonstrated their heroism and selfless approach in this matter. This is a mountainous region with a difficult geography, in which it is extremely difficult to separate civilians from terrorists. We have made every effort to ensure stability in this tense region. Regime forces launched an offensive from the south — from Kuneitra, Hama, and Eastern Ghouta. Some of the population fled, the other remained, government troops established their control. In the same way, they tried to act in Idlib. When, as a result of the conclusion of the memorandum on September 17, it became impossible, the Syrian regime did not like it. As a result of aerial and ground bombardments in the region, a massive migration of people took place. 350,000 people moved from north to south. The UN demanded an armistice. If this situation continued, it would lead to the displacement of 3.5-4 million people and a new humanitarian catastrophe. Fortunately, today this threat has been averted. Meanwhile, the situation in the region is changing very dynamically. We told Shoygu about the need to stop attacks by regime forces. Together with Russia, we have embarked on this path and are making efforts to ensure that this process continues.
That the Turkish military would leave their observation points is not even being considered. The armed forces of Turkey, wherever they are located, will not move a single step from their positions. We are watching to prevent the violation of the provisions of the Russian-Turkish memorandum.
In turn, the regime is doing everything possible to strengthen its position and expand the area under its control. Government forces already control three-quarters of Syrian territory, and intend to take control of Idlib. I suggested that Russia send a working group on the Idlib issue. On some points we could not reach an agreement. Meanwhile, we strive to maintain close contact and interaction.
THE SITUATION IN THE AEGEAN REGION: Currently our large mixed delegation is visiting Athens. The meeting is taking place in a friendly atmosphere. Negotiations will continue until Friday. We are discussing all the problematic issues that have arisen between Turkey and Greece to date, without any preliminary conditions. We stand for peace and friendship and maintaining good-neighborly relations. Our only goal is to protect the rights of our people. This work has been going on for several years now. The coastal waters of the Greek islands extend 6 miles, airspace 10 miles. On our ships, an officer so much as gets a toothache and a helicopter rises, and the Greeks say: “The 10-mile airspace was violated.” This is unacceptable.
MANBIJ: The head of the US General Staff gave me the floor, and the president of America gave the floor to our president. On June 4, 2018, we agreed on a roadmap; on May 16, we signed security protocols. Our final demand in connection with these territories is connected with the withdrawal of terrorists, in accordance with the promises given to us, as well as with the transfer of power in Manbij directly to the inhabitants of Manbij. These territories are 90 percent inhabited by Arabs. We informed our colleagues that the hegemony of the PKK / Kurdish security detachments on these lands is unacceptable.
EAST OF EUPHRATES: A great deal of negotiating took place. Mr. Trump announced the withdrawal of US troops from the region to a distance of about 20 miles (30-35 km). We told Mr. Trump that terrorists are equipping drones with explosives and attacking our soldiers, settlements. We emphasized that we want to feel safe, and told the Americans: take away their weapons in the territory of 30-35 km to the south, remove them from the region, ensure our safety. The Turkish military is ready to serve in this 30-35-kilometer corridor. Why do we say to that? The Americans invited NATO, Europe. No answer. Meanwhile, the Turkish Armed Forces are ready for this and have the necessary potential. We have the power to do this. This would be an effective and reasonable solution from the point of view of the security of the United States itself. Albeit slowly, but the Americans are beginning to take our point of view, we see it. In the near future, we will all continue to increase our efforts to resolve this issue.
S-400: The Republic of Turkey and its population are facing a serious missile threat. Obviously, we feel the need to create our own air defense system to protect our 82 million people. Fortunately, the NATO Secretary General understands this. This defense system is not a threat to anyone. We will not be able to attack the territory of any state with its help. Meanwhile, this system will protect us in case our country is subjected to a missile strike. No one should be in doubt. Our only goal is to ensure the safety and security of our country and people. The search for a solution has been going on since the 90s. Turkey is no longer a market, we are tired of this position.
For this reason, we are looking for partners with whom we can interact. Negotiations were held with China, Russia, Europe, the USA. At present, Russia has given a positive response. In accordance with this, negotiations were held with Russia, as a result of which an agreement was signed. As Mr. President has repeatedly stated, this issue has been resolved and closed. The agreement is signed. So this is a decided matter, will there be a delay in deliveries or not? The opposite side makes statements, proposals.
DELIVERY OF THE F-35s: Another difficulty is the binding issue of the purchase of S-400 to the supply of F-35s. There are 9 partners in the F-35 program. I asked these partners whether there is a clause providing for the exclusion of one of the partners from the project in case of their purchase of the C-400 in the F-35 joint production agreement. Didn’t we pay our share for participation in the project? We certainly did. Turkey is a country that regularly pays partnership contributions, a total of 1 billion 200 million dollars. There are a number of materials and components that we ordered within the framework of joint production. Turkey always carries out production with quality and on time. What else is required from partners? Every country has the right to defense. And we intend to protect ourselves. Our participation in the F-35 program continues. 4 aircraft were delivered, we have 4 pilots, 47 specialists. In November, 2 aircrafts will arrive. They will be located at the Air Force Base in Malatya. Construction work there is going according to the plan. Turkey fulfills all its obligations, and, in turn, looks forward to the continuation of the program for the F-35.
The main problem is the issue of technology transfer. Turkey and the United States are strategic allies, as American representatives say in each of their statements. However, you are afraid to supply us with the F-35. Meanwhile, Russia is selling us a much more sophisticated and modern weapons system.
WE ARE CONDUCTING PREPARATIONS: We constantly bring up the issue of protecting our rights, and we are waiting for understanding from the opposite side. The Americans threaten us with sanctions under the Law on Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) if in the coming months we receive S-400 components… under these conditions, we, keeping calm, to prevent erroneous steps, are conducting the necessary training.
PATRIOT PROPOSAL: On March 28-29, the American side revised a number of conditions on cost, technology transfer, modernization, and joint production of Patriot air defense systems. Despite the fact that this proposal did not suit us, we are preparing an answer to it. We stand on a principled position. The Americans put forward a number of conditions. We, in turn, tell them that the transaction is completed. And they answer us: “The deal is not over.” The defense industry is built on the principle of diversification. The presence of various weapons systems at a reasonable level enriches the country’s armed forces. We are negotiating the purchase of systems Samp-T, Patriot, and buying the S-400.
FRANCE SUPPLIES THE SAMP-T: As a result of the meeting between Mr. President and Macron and our talks with the French Minister of Defense, some success was achieved. They offered us a Samp-T system to place in the south-east of the country, and also to conduct a study of Spanish systems deployed in Incirlik and Kahramanmaraş.
WHERE THE S-400 WILL BE PLACED: Work is underway on the S-400. Right now, it is a matter of building up our defense system to protect against military aircraft and enemy missiles. There are many areas in need of protection. One or two batteries is not enough for this. Even in Qatar there are 15-20 batteries. We made a proposal to create a joint Turkish-American, or NATO technical working group to study how to prevent the interaction of S-400 and F-35. Let this question be studied objectively. The fact that Turkey, creating its own air defense system, refers to sources outside of Europe and the United States, causes their discontent and irritation. We strive to meet our needs. We adhere to a principled and clear position on this issue.
MILITARY PERSONNEL ARE DIRECTED TO RUSSIA FOR TRAINING: We sent military personnel to Russia to train in the operation of the S-400 air defense missile systems. Various units are involved in the training. Training will last in the coming months.
WE ARE READY FOR CAATSA SANCTIONS: Are we preparing? Of course we are, but talking about it can be dangerous. We are in the process of obtaining S-400, Patriot, and Samt-T systems. With God’s help, everything will be successful. As the new results of our actions appear, we will take the necessary measures.
KOZYR IN KURECIK AND INCIRLIK: There is an opinion that it is better not to speak about important things out loud so as not to spoil them. We will do our best to protect our rights and put our tasks into practice. Negotiations will continue.
We see a gradual convergence of our positions with the American side on the situation to the east of the Euphrates, the supply of the F-35 and the Patriot air defense missile system. Friendship is known in difficult times. We ask the United States, did Turkey not participate in joint NATO exercises? Certain forces are trying to propagandize, claiming that Turkey is breaking away from NATO… We have repeatedly said that these statements do not correspond to reality. We are simply doing everything possible to protect the interests and rights of our country.
THE WAR BETWEEN IRAN AND THE US: In the past 10-15 years, we have been constantly talking about the likelihood of a war between Iran and the United States. It is necessary to adhere to a balanced position, and closely monitor events.