Graham talks with Turkish foreign minister at Trump's request amid row over Russian defense system

Graham talks with Turkish foreign minister at Trump's request amid row over Russian defense system
© Greg Nash

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by AT&T - Simone wins bronze with altered beam routine The job of shielding journalists is not finished The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - White House, Dems play blame game over evictions MORE (R-S.C.) called Turkey's foreign minister on Wednesday at President TrumpDonald TrumpFive takeaways from the Ohio special primaries Missouri Rep. Billy Long enters Senate GOP primary Trump-backed Mike Carey wins GOP primary in Ohio special election MORE’s behest amid ongoing tensions over Ankara’s decision to buy a Russian antimissile system, the senator said Thursday.

Graham said he delivered a message to Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu about a “win-win” situation for Turkey and the United States if Ankara reverses course on the Russian S-400.

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“The S-400, that problem can be solved, and the relationship can flourish,” Graham said he told the foreign minister. “This can be a win-win. If the S-400 is activated, then the relationship takes a very dark turn.”

Turkey’s acceptance of the Russian system prompted the United States to suspend that nation's participation in the F-35 fighter jet program and has several U.S. lawmakers calling for harsh sanctions against the NATO ally.

“My pitch to Turkey was: Let’s stand down on the S-400, let’s start free trade agreement negotiations, which would change the Turkish economy, would help the American economy, will give us a much closer economic relationship,” Graham said. “The S-400 is a $4 billion purchase. They’ve had to be removed from the F-35 program, that’s a $10 billion loss. If there was a free trade agreement negotiation that resulted in a product it would fundamentally change Turkey’s economy. What I’m asking for is cooler heads to prevail.”

The White House did not comment for this story.

Turkey began receiving parts for the S-400 earlier this month, followed days later by the Trump administration officially suspending Turkey from the F-35 program.

U.S. officials are concerned the S-400’s powerful radars could be used to gather information on the United States’s most advanced fighter jet.

The Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act also requires sanctions on those who do business with Russia’s defense industry, and lawmakers in both parties have been calling for Trump to impose the mandatory sanctions.

But Trump has yet to levy sanctions on Turkey, leaving some lawmakers worried he will waive them. Trump said last week he was still considering whether to impose sanctions.

A meeting at the White House on Tuesday with Republican senators reportedly saw Trump at odds with members over the issue, with Trump opposed to harsh sanctions.

In public, Trump has appeared sympathetic to Turkey’s position, placing the blame on the Obama administration for not selling Turkey the U.S.-made Patriot system.

The United States offered to sell Turkey the Patriot system in both the Obama and Trump administrations, but Ankara turned down the offers because the United States would not share sensitive technology Turkey wants to be able to build its own weapons.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim RischJim Elroy RischBiden officials back repealing Iraq War authorization Tracy Stone-Manning's confirmation treatment was simply unacceptable — and it must stop The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - US gymnast wins all-around gold as Simone Biles cheers from the stands MORE (R-Idaho) said Wednesday that the White House meeting saw a “spirited discussion,” but denied he fought with Trump.

“That’s all a work in progress,” Risch said of sanctions. “Obviously, everybody’s discussing that because Turkey can’t have the S-400 and F-35, so how do you reconcile that?”

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioRubio presses DNI to investigate alleged unmasking of Tucker Carlson Senate holds sleepy Saturday session as negotiators finalize infrastructure deal Break glass in case of emergency — but not for climate change MORE (R-Fla.), who was not at the meeting Tuesday, told reporters Wednesday that his “understanding is that the president made it pretty clear he would not like to impose the sanctions.”

On Thursday, Graham said he doesn’t think sanctions need to be imposed until Turkey activates the S-400, which it has not done.

Still, he acknowledged he was taking a softer position than other Republican senators. 

“Some of us are harder on Turkey than I am, quite frankly,” Graham said. “But I think there’s space to do a free trade agreement if you don’t activate the system. If the system gets activated, there are no options left.”

Updated at 6:33 p.m.