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Kremlin says it will take time to mend ties with Turkey



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MOSCOW (AP) -- It will take time for Russia to mend ties with Turkey after the November downing of a Russian military jet, the spokesman for President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan sent a letter of formal apology to Putin on Monday, seven months after Turkey shot down the Russian jet on a mission in Syria, triggering a slew of Russian sanctions that have dealt a blow to the Turkish economy.

Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, on Tuesday called the apology "a very important" step but added that the ties between the two countries would not go back to where they were overnight.

"Together we will have to take more than one step to meet each other," Peskov said. "One shouldn't think that everything will be mended overnight. We will keep up our work in that direction."

Putin will talk to Erdogan by telephone on Wednesday, which will be their first one-to-one chat since the jet was shot down, Peskov said. Erdogan's spokesman said the Turkish and Russian foreign ministers were expected to meet on the sidelines of a Black Sea regional cooperation meeting in Sochi this week.

Putin denounced the downing of the Russian warplane at the Syrian border on Nov. 24 as a "treacherous stab in the back." Russia rejected the Turkish claim that the plane had violated its airspace, and responded by deploying long-range air defense missiles to its base in Syria, warning that they would destroy any target posing a threat to Russian aircraft.

The plane's downing came amid a rift between Moscow and Ankara over Syria, where they backed the opposing sides in the conflict.

Moscow moved swiftly to ban the sale of package tours to Turkey, which had depended heavily on Russian tourists; banned most of Turkey's food exports; and introduced restrictions against Turkish construction companies, which had won a sizable niche of the Russian market.

In contrast to Peskov, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said Tuesday that the ties are already improved: "We can say that the ice has melted and that the process of normalization has started."

Ibrahim Kalin, Erdogan's spokesman, said Turkey expected relations to return to where they were before the plane shooting incident, when the sides did not agree on a number of foreign policy issues - including on Ukraine, Syria and Crimea - but still maintained close economic relations.

Along with the formal apology, Moscow said it expected Ankara to pay compensation to the family of the killed pilot.

Asked about the possible compensation, Yildirim said in comments carried by the Anadolu news agency on Tuesday that Turkey was prepared to help the family of the slain pilot, but rejected the term "compensation."

"If the family accepts, we can offer to help, we are prepared to make a gesture," Kalin said.

He added that Turkey will go ahead with the prosecution of the men responsible for the pilot's death.

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Suzan Fraser in Ankara contributed to this report.

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