MOSCOW — Russia said Friday that it will deliver an air-defense missile system to Turkey in the coming days. The deal is likely to trigger U.S. sanctions against Turkey, a fellow NATO member, and test the bonds of the Western military alliance.
But the scope of the possible response from Washington remains clouded by apparent conflicting messages.
President Donald Trump has publicly shown sympathy for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's position on the Russian missile purchase. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, however, has warned of tough measures that could include canceling the sales of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey.
For the wider NATO alliance, the Turkish deal strikes at the heart of military coordination. NATO says Turkey shouldn't have both Russia's S-400 system and U.S.-made F-35s. Having both would give Russia access to NATO secrets about stealth technology.
For more than a year, the United States has urged Erdogan not to procure the sophisticated Russian air-defense system — a move that would bring mandatory U.S. sanctions against Turkey under a 2017 law on cooperation with "adversaries."
Imposing U.S. sanctions would cause an extraordinary breach in U.S.-Turkey relations and almost certainly complicate ongoing negotiations between the two countries over other issues, including military strategy in Syria.
But while U.S. officials have portrayed the sanctions against Turkey as a matter of certainty, Trump refrained from taking a hard line with Erdogan during talks last month in Japan at the G-20 summit. Trump noted that Turkey help bring U.S. jobs by paying a "tremendous amount of money" on the F-35 fighters.
Trump, speaking to reporters at the summit, said Erdogan had first sought to buy Patriot missiles but had been "treated very unfairly" by the Obama administration, without giving specifics.
At the G-20 summit, Trump did not directly say whether the United States would impose sanctions on Turkey. Erdogan, however, said after his talks with Trump that Turkey would be spared the U.S. sanctions.
The State Department on Friday repeated its previous warnings that Turkey is exposing itself to sanctions.