Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday rejected calls to prevent his country from acquiring nuclear weapons, saying it was unacceptable for nuclear-armed states to forbid Turkey from doing so.
“Some countries have missiles with nuclear warheads, not one or two. But (they tell us) we can’t have them. This, I cannot accept,” Erdogan said in a speech to his ruling party members, according to Reuters.
Turkey has been part of a nuclear-sharing program among NATO allies and has hosted U.S. nuclear weapons, but does not have any nuclear weapons of its own. Erdogan did not specify whether Turkey would start trying to develop its own.
“There is no developed nation in the world that doesn’t have them,” Erdogan added. However, only nine sovereign states are currently known to have nuclear weapons.
Turkey has long asserted it needs air defense systems to meet security threats, mostly stemming from the civil war in Syria. On Wednesday, Erdogan implied Turkey might need nuclear weapons to counterbalance Israel.
“We have Israel nearby, as almost neighbors," he said, according to Reuters. They scare (other nations) by possessing these. No one can touch them.”
Israel has had a longstanding policy of refusing to comment publicly on whether it maintains a nuclear arsenal.
Erdogan's remarks came amid tensions with the U.S. over Turkey's purchase of an advanced Russian missile defense system. The U.S. threatened sanctions if Turkey completed the deal to buy the Russian system, the S-400, and President Trump ultimately followed through on the threat.
As a result of the S-400 deal, Turkey has been unable to buy the high-tech F-35 fighter jet. As a NATO member, Turkey had had a part in the development of the jet.
Washington claimed Turkey's deal with Russia might compromise intelligence regarding its development.
Trump said Turkey had bought the S-400 system as a result of the Obama administration refusing to sell Turkey the American alternative until after the S-400 deal was complete, Defense News reported.