Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has anchored his hope to another meeting with his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump to mend scarred bilateral ties, as the two leaders are set to meet on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly this week in New York.
Ankara and Washington have been at loggerheads over Turkey's purchase of the Russian S-400 air defense system. The U.S. maintains that it is incompatible with NATO defenses, while Turkey counters that the S-400 would not be integrated into NATO systems and would not pose a threat to the alliance.
'Middle Power' diplomacy: Turkey's game between the U.S. and Russia
Erdogan confident Turkey will avoid U.S. sanctions over S-400s
During the New York meeting, Erdogan and Trump are expected to discuss the controversial purchase as well as the establishment of a "safe zone" in northeast Syria.
S-400 or F-35?
Trump announced last month that the U.S. halted the delivery of 100 F-35 stealth fighters Turkey purchased after Ankara started receiving shipments of S-400s from Russia.
The delivery of a second battery of the Russian missile defense system has been completed and will become active in April 2020, according to Turkey's defense ministry. The initial parts of the system were delivered to Ankara in July despite warnings about possible U.S. sanctions over the purchase.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said earlier this month the Trump administration was considering imposing sanctions but no decisions had been made.
In an interview on Friday, Erdogan told Reuters he will discuss buying U.S. Patriot missiles with Trump this month, saying his personal bond with the U.S. leader could overcome the crisis caused by the S-400s.
"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 said, adding that he was referring to the possibility of joint production and favorable lending terms.
"He (Trump) said: 'Are you serious?' I said: 'Yes'," Erdogan noted, adding that he told Trump they would discuss it in greater detail when they meet.
'Safe zone' in Syria
Erdogan and Trump will also discuss plans to establish what Turkey describes as a safe zone along 450 km of Syrian border stretching from the Euphrates River to the Iraq border, a region controlled mainly by U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish YPG fighters.
U.S. support for the YPG is an irritant in its relations with Turkey which considers the YPG a terrorist organization and wants them removed from more than 400 km of border. On August 7, the two NATO allies agreed to jointly establish the safe zone, but no consensus has been reached on the details.
Turkey and the U.S. have started joint land and air patrols along part of the border strip, but Ankara says Washington is moving too slowly to establish a sufficiently large safe zone to push Syrian Kurdish forces from the border.
Before Erdogan leaves for New York, he said on Saturday that Turkey is ready to act on its southern border with Syria and "all preparations have been completed along Turkey's borderline" for establishing the safe zone.
Erdogan noted that Turkey has no desire to confront the U.S. as the two countries are together in NATO and have continued their strategic partnership for many years.
"But in a place where the U.S. is not invited, we cannot afford to ignore the support it has given to terrorist organizations," he said, stressing that Washington's support for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party and its Syrian offshoot YPG is "obvious."
'Erdogan, Trump show flexibility to resolve problems'
Erdogan and Trump show political flexibility to overcome the current problems between the two countries, Verda Özer, a senior fellow from Atlantic Council said in an analysis for Milliyet.
The U.S. has flexed its conditions to punish Turkey over S-400s firstly from acquisition to delivery, then from delivery to activation while Turkey shows a political elasticity by discussing the purchase of Patriot batteries as standing firm on S-400s and a planned safe zone in northern Syria, Özer said.
"At the moment, there is no solution to satisfy both sides and the search for a mutual agreement continues. This means that negotiations will continue until April, when the delivery of the S-400 is completed, and the door is open to purchase of Patriots," the columnist said.