Turkey would be open to new offers for a missile defense system if a deal agreed with a Chinese firm under U.S. sanctions falls through, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan was quoted on Friday as saying.
The NATO member's decision to co-produce the long-range air and missile defense system with China Precision Machinery Import and Export Corp (CPMIEC) over rival bids from Russian, U.S. and European firms has raised concern among Turkey's Western allies.
“Currently I don't know if there are different proposals from the other parties. If there are they could be considered,” the pro-government Bugun newspaper quoted Erdogan as telling a reporter on his plane early on Thursday.
“Only if China pulls out of the negotiations will the possibility of talks with the other sides emerge.”
A senior Turkish official familiar with the matter confirmed Erdogan had made the comments.
The U.S. ambassador to Turkey said on Thursday Washington was concerned that the $3.4 billion deal with the Chinese firm could undermine allied air defenses and had begun “expert” talks with Ankara to assess the potential impact.
NATO has also said it is worried about Turkey buying a system not compatible with those of other member states, potentially undermining a core principle of the 28-nation alliance.
Turkey announced in September it had chosen the FD-2000 missile defense system CPMIEC over rival systems from Franco/Italian Eurosam SAMP/T and U.S. firm Raytheon Co, though officials have since said the decision is not yet final.
Both Turkey and China have said Ankara's decision was made on purely commercial grounds. Turkey has said CPMIEC offered the most competitive terms and would enable production to be partly based in Turkey, helping it achieve its long-standing goal of strengthening its domestic defense industry.
Raytheon said on Thursday it was still ready to sell its Patriot missile defense system to Turkey if Ankara changed its mind.
CPMIEC is under U.S. sanctions for violations of the Iran, North Korea and Syria Nonproliferation Act.