Turkey's Erdogan Plans to Pit the U.S. Against Russia Over Anti-Aircraft Missiles: 'I Told Trump That They Should Sell Patriots to Us'

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has suggested that the U.S.-Russian contest over the country's anti-air defense network is not over, as he prepares to head to the United Nations General Assembly at the end of this month.

Relations between NATO allies the U.S. and Turkey have been strained by Ankara's decision to purchase the Russian-made S-400 anti-aircraft system. Washington believes that giving Moscow a way into the Turkish military could threaten NATO security and compromise classified military information.

The U.S. has tried both stick and carrot to sink the deal. Washington offered Turkey an American-made alternative to the S-400, and also threatened sanctions if the Russian deal went ahead. In July, American officials announced that Turkey would be kicked out of the F-35 stealth fighter jet program, citing security concerns related to the S-400 deal.

But for all the American pressure, Turkey began taking delivery of the S-400 order in July, with Turkish troops reportedly starting training in Russia this week.

Erdogan, s-400, Russia, Patriot, Trump
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gives a speech during a joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin while visiting the MAKS 2019 International Aviation and Space Show on August 27, 2019 in Zhukovsky, Russia. Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images/Getty

But Erdogan suggested Wednesday that he would still be open to a deal for American-made Patriot missiles, which the U.S. originally offered Turkey to try and steer Ankara away from the S-400. Following the delivery of the Russian system, the U.S. formally withdrew the Patriot offer.

Speaking in the Turkish city of Sivas, Erdogan said he "told Trump that they should sell Patriots to us but on the condition similar to what the Russians proposed," according to Russian state news agency Tass.

Both leaders will head to New York at the end of this month for the UN General Assembly, and Erdogan said the anti-air missiles would be on the agenda. "I will hold a meeting with Trump at the UN," he said, "we will debate this issue then."

The strongman leader also reiterated the assertion that it is Turkey's decision what weapons it purchases and uses, not the U.S.'s. Turkey currently hosts some 50 American nuclear weapons, but Erdogan even suggested he would be interested in procuring his own.

"Certain [nations] have nuclear warhead missiles, while we cannot have them. I cannot accept this," he said. "Right now, nearly all the countries in the developed world have nuclear missiles."

The S-400 deal may have secured Turkey one of the world's most potent anti-air systems, but it has left Ankara scrambling to fill an F-35-sized hole in its future air force plans. Turkey had been due to purchase 100 of the stealth fighters and had agreed to produce some of the equipment and assembly parts for the fighter.

President Vladimir Putin's administration is putting itself forward to fill the gap. The two nations have reportedly held talks regarding the Russian Su-35 and Su-57 fighter jets, with Erdogan accompanying Putin to the MAKS airshow outside Moscow last month to inspect fighters.