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WASHINGTON (Reuters) — President Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey still intended to buy a second batch of S-400 missile defense systems from Russia, a move that could deepen a rift with NATO ally Washington and trigger fresh U.S. sanctions.
Washington says the S-400s pose a threat to its F-35 fighter jets and to NATO’s broader defense systems. Turkey says it was unable to procure air defense systems from any NATO ally on satisfactory terms.
“In the future, nobody will be able to interfere in terms of what kind of defense systems we acquire, from which country at what level,” Erdogan said in an interview aired on Face the Nation with Margaret Brennan at CBS News on Sunday.
“Nobody can interfere with that. We are the only ones to make such decisions.”
The United States imposed sanctions on Turkey’s Defense Industry Directorate, its chief Ismail Demir and three other employees in December following the country’s acquisition of a first batch of S-400s.
Talks continued between Russia and Turkey about the delivery of a second batch, which Washington has repeatedly said would almost certainly trigger new sanctions.
Erdogan will visit Russia next week to meet President Vladimir Putin to discuss issues including the violence in northwestern Syria.
Erdogan also said that U.S. President Joe Biden never raised the issue of Turkey’s human rights track record, seen as extremely troublesome by international rights advocacy groups, confirming Reuters reporting from earlier in September.
Asked whether Biden brought up the issue during their June meeting on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Brussels, Erdogan said: “No he didn’t. And because we don’t have any problems of that nature in terms of freedoms, Turkey is incomparably free,” he said.
Turkey is among the top jailers of journalists, according to figures from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), while Human Rights Watch (HRW) says Erdogan’s authoritarian rule has consolidated by passing legislation that contravenes international human rights obligations.
U.S. and Turkish sources told Reuters earlier this month that Biden, who has repeatedly said promoting human rights worldwide lies at the heart of his foreign policy, did not bring up the issue of human rights in his meeting with Erdogan. The discussion focused on Afghanistan, Syria and Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400s.
Turkish officials took it as a signal Washington would not push hard over human rights, the sources said, despite repeated public criticism from the Biden administration of Ankara’s treatment of opposition groups and its official recognition that the 1915 killings of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire was genocide.