ISTANBUL, TURKEY - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is looking forward to a meeting with President Donald Trump to end the escalating crisis over Ankara's procurement of Russia's S-400 missile system. The expected meeting on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan, is seen as the last chance to avoid a rupture in ties between the NATO allies.
"The [presidents’] meeting is a turning point," said former senior Turkish diplomat Aydin Selcen who served in Washington. "Why, because we have a deadline, for the first time we have a delivery date by the end of July, and the sanctions from Washington are ready to kick in. They are concrete; they are ready."
Erdogan is playing down the threat of sanctions. "I don't know if NATO countries began to impose sanctions on each other. I did not receive this impression during my contact with Trump," Erdogan said Wednesday to reporters before leaving for Japan.
Erdogan is expecting a breakthrough with Trump. "I believe my meeting with U.S. President Trump during the G-20 summit will be important for eliminating the deadlock in our bilateral relations and strengthening our cooperation," Erdogan told the Nikkei Asian Review, in an interview published Wednesday.
Washington says the advanced S-400 missile system threatens to compromise NATO defense systems, especially the United States' latest F-35 fighter jet. Ankara faces exclusion from the consortium building the F-35 along with the purchasing of the plane.
The first step in U.S. sanctions over the S-400 system saw Turkish pilots removed this month from training on the advanced jet.
Erdogan is banking on his relationship with Trump to end the impasse. "Yes, Mr. Erdogan is reportedly one of Mr. Trump's favorite leaders around the world," said Selcen, who is now a regional analyst. "But then on various issues what Mr. Trump says on the phone or bilateral talks, does not necessarily coincide with what happens on the ground," he added.
However, Wednesday acting U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper warned his Turkish counterpart, Hulusi Akar, of the consequences of the S-400 purchase.
"If they accept the S-400 they should accept ramifications not only to the F-35 program but also to their economic situation," a U.S. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity after a defense ministers meeting on the sidelines of a NATO gathering in Brussels.
The U.S. Congress is threatening to hit Turkey with wide-ranging economic sanctions under the Counter-Anti-American Trade Sanctions Act (CAATSA.)
Trump does have the power to block some of the sanctions, but International relations expert Soli Ozel of Istanbul's Kadir Has University questions whether Trump would be prepared to use precious political capital defending Ankara.
"Yes, he (Trump) does defy Congress," said Ozel, "but that usually happens when the Republican party is solidly behind him. However, when it comes to Turkey the S-400 and F-35, the Republicans in Congress are not at all with him, nor the Pentagon."
Erdogan is also due to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G-20 summit. The meeting could be an opportunity for the Turkish president to seek a way out of the S-400 purchase without damaging ties with Moscow. With the two countries sharing a wide range of interests economically and regionally, analysts say there is room for a possible deal.
"Putin is key to a solution. The S-400 deal is a marriage of sorts only he can free Erdogan from," said international relations professor Huseyin Bagci of Ankara's Middle East Technical University.
However, Turkish domestic politics could be a new obstacle leading to Erdogan backing down. The Turkish president is reeling from a landslide defeat of his candidate in Sunday's crucial Istanbul mayoral election.
"Due to the heavy loss in the mayoral election Erdogan may try and consolidate his base," said Selcen. "If there is more catering to the nationalist and Islamist base, then yes, the S-400 can become part of domestic politics. Then it will be harder to solve."
In Erdogan's first speech since his bruising Istanbul defeat, he played the nationalist card, underlining that the missile purchase was more than just a defense matter. "The issue of the S-400 is an issue directly related to our sovereignty, and we will not backtrack from that," he said to his parliamentary deputies.
Erdogan's parliamentary coalition partner backed his position. "Turkey is at a crossroads. Either we submit to these threats, lose our honor, or get the S-400s and deploy them to the designated homeland," said MHP leader Devlet Bahceli, Wednesday.
"I fear that this has become a matter of honor for both (Turkey and the U.S.) sides, making compromise difficult," said Bagci "At the end of the day there will be no winner. Turkey will have economic problems, militarily problems, and that is a price Turkey is ready to pay. Turkish psychology is important to understand; this is a country with an imperial past and won't be dictated to."