Erdogan refuses to give up Russian missile system on US visit

The Turkish president said he wanted to maintain ties with both the US and Russia

epaselect epa07994088 US President Donald J. Trump (R) and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) finish a joint press conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, USA, 13 November 2019. The visit comes one month after Turkey's invasion into northern Syria against the Kurds and on the first day of public impeachment hearings.  EPA/ERIK S. LESSER

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ruled out giving up a Russian missile system to improve relations with the US on Thursday.

During a visit to the White House on Thursday, Mr Erdogan cited Turkey's reliance on Russian gas supplies and income from its tourists as he ruled out scrapping the S-400 missile-defense system, saying his country wants to be friends with both Moscow and Washington.

US President Donald Trump on Wednesday urged Erdogan to walk away from the purchase of the S-400 systems, but was rebuffed.

“We can’t ruin our relations with Russia. There is a strategic relationship over the natural gas. Do we have a chance to ignore the Turkish Stream gas project? They say ‘you are right but roll tractors over the S-400s.’ We said it is not possible to do such a thing.”

Ankara and Washington had been at loggerheads over Turkey's decision to buy the Russian S400 missile system, which the US says is incompatible with NATO defences, of which both the US and Turkey are members.

The United States expelled Turkey from the F-35 fighter jet programme over its purchase of the Russian air defense system, whose parts began arriving in Turkey in July, but the Trump administration has so far fallen short of imposing sanctions, even though the US Congress voted for them.

The US Defence Department has cancelled F-35 fighter jet deliveries to Ankara in July but the Trump administration has delayed further penalties required by Congress.

“We can’t dump S-400s and go for Patriots," Mr Erdogan told reporters.

"I want both America and Russia be my friends...The way to overcome differences of views is to remain in a healthy dialogue based on correct information. We will continue our work in this without interruption.”

Republican lawmakers alos pushed Mr Erdogan on his choice of missile system on Thursday.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz told Mr Erdogan that US lawmakers have two main concerns. One is the S-400 air defense system that Turkey bought from Moscow and the second is stopping Turkey from going after the Kurds.

Florida Senator Rick Scott said he wants to see Turkey moving closer to the US and not Russia.

Trump described a meeting between the two leaders on Thursday as "wonderful" but both leaders fell short of explaining in concrete terms how they would overcome the mounting differences they have on numerous issues.

Dozens of Kurds and their supporters waved Kurdish and American flags outside the White House to protest Mr Trump’s meeting with the Turkish leader.

Protesters gathered in Lafayette Park, across the street from the White House, and chanted slogans demanding that Turkey-backed forces withdraw from northern Syria.

Turkey launched an offensive south into neighboring Syria early last month to battle Kurdish forces allied with the United States in the fight against Islamic State militants.

Mr Erdogan sees Kurdish forces in Syria as an extension of a separatist Kurdish group that’s been fighting inside Turkey since the 1980s.