Erdogan on downed jet: Had we known it was Russian, we may have acted differently

“Had we known it was a Russian plane we may have acted differently,” Erdogan said in an exclusive interview with FRANCE 24 on Thursday.

“But our pilots know the rules of engagement and have to do their duty to protect Turkish airspace,” he added.

Speaking to FRANCE 24’s Marc Perelman in the Turkish capital, Ankara, he struck a conciliatory tone but declined to apologize for Tuesday’s incident, which has further heightened tensions in the conflict-ridden region.

He reiterated Turkey’s stance that the Russian plane “ignored repeated warnings over five minutes” to leave Turkish airspace and had failed to identify itself.

During the interview, the Turkish leader said he had personally told Russian President Vladimir Putin at a G20 meeting to end Russian incursions into Turkey’s airspace, warning that such incidents were likely to occur.

He added: “No sovereign state can be expected to give up its right to protect [its airspace].”

The Turkish president said his country had communicated all military data on the incident to Russian military authorities, adding that “data provided by our NATO allies confirms our own.”

Abstaining from directly responding to questions about whether he planned to apologize, Erdogan said Russia had failed to communicate its own data and that Putin had ignored his phone calls.

“We need to talk about what happened, but Putin has not returned my call,” he said.

He also challenged Russia to prove its accusation that Turkey is buying oil and gas from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), calling the claims “shameful” and even pledging to step down if the claim is proven.

“This is a great disrespect to Turkey and those who make the claims are slanderers,” he said. “If they prove it, Tayyip Erdogan will step down.”

Commenting on Erdogan’s statement, Putin said at the G-20 summit in Antalya he showed fellow leaders the aerial pictures of convoys of oil trucks carrying the ISIL oil into Turkey.

“Let’s assume that Turkey’s political leadership knows nothing about it, it’s theoretically possible, albeit hard to believe,” he said sarcastically. “There may be elements of corruption and insider deals. They should deal with it.”

Putin responded to the plane’s downing by ordering the deployment of powerful long-range air defense missiles to a Russian air base in Syria.

SOURCE: TODAY’S ZAMAN

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