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Erdogan says will talk to Trump about buying Patriot missiles

The Turkish president says he will discuss with his American counterpart Donald Trump a possible purchase of US-made Patriot surface-to-air missile systems in an upcoming meeting.

In an exclusive interview with Reuters published on Friday, Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that he had raised the issue in a phone call with Trump two weeks ago, and that they would further talk about a Patriot deal during a meeting at the UN General Assembly later this month.

He also noted that his close relationship with Trump could mend tensions over Ankara’s purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defense systems.

The S-400 sale has raised the prospect of US sanctions on Turkey and led the administration of US President Donald Trump to exclude Ankara from its F-35 stealth fighter jet program.

“I said no matter what package of … S-400s we get, we can buy from you a certain amount of Patriots,” Erdogan said. “But I said we have to see conditions that at least match up to the S-400s.”

“He (Trump) said: ‘Are you serious?’ I said: ‘Yes’,” he added, stressing that he told Trump they would discuss it in greater detail when they meet.

Patriots are designed primarily to take out ballistic missiles, not aircraft, unlike the dual-use Russian S-400 systems.

The US argues that Russian military hardware would be incompatible with NATO systems and expose F-35 jets to possible Russian subterfuge.

Turkey maintains that it needs air defense systems to meet security threats, mainly emanating from the conflict in neighboring Syria.

Elsewhere in his interview, Erdogan was asked whether he would request Trump to prevent the US Treasury imposing a heavy fine on Turkey’s Halkbank for violating anti-Iran bans.

The Turkish president said he was confident they could avoid a “mistake” of further sanctions, pointing to “a different kind of trust” between himself and Trump.

“In my opinion a country like the US will not want to hurt its ally Turkey any more. This is not a rational behavior,” he added.

Additionally, Erdogan reiterated a warning that Turkey would be forced to let Syrian refugees leave for Europe if Western countries fail to provide greater support to Ankara and back its plan for a Syria safe zone stretching from the Euphrates River to the Iraq border. The area is under the control of the US-backed Kurdish militants, who are considered terrorist by Ankara.

Erdogan complained that the European Union’s financial aid to Turkey was not sufficient to ease the burden of 3.6 million Syrian refugees.

“If you can’t accept this business, we will open the gates. Let them go from there wherever they want,” he said.