President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan expressed on Thursday his belief that Turkey and the United States will make progress in talks for the sale of F-16 fighter jets, and that Ankara will recoup a payment it made for F-35s that it has been blocked from buying.
Erdoğan said at the weekend that the U.S. had offered to sell Turkey the F-16s in return for Ankara’s down payment on the more advanced F-35s, which Washington blocked after Turkey bought S-400 missile defense systems from Russia.
“We will get this $1.4 billion (TL 13.2 billion) of ours one way or another,” the president told reporters aboard the presidential plane on the return flight from a trip to Africa.
Erdoğan said the Turkish defense minister and his American counterpart have been discussing the issue.
Expressing his belief that positive steps would be taken, the president noted the issue would be discussed with U.S. President Joe Biden during this weekend’s G-20 meeting in Rome.
“I believe we will make progress. We will of course talk about this with (U.S. President) Biden at the G-20 meeting in Rome.”
“In no way will we let anyone abuse Turkey’s rights,” he added.
Many say the meeting set to take place later this month could unlock the standoff over the F-35s or F-16s.
Ankara had ordered more than 100 F-35 jets, made by Lockheed Martin, while its defense industry has been a prominent player in the development and manufacturing of fighter jets.
Turkey reportedly made a request to the U.S. to buy 40 Lockheed Martin-made F-16 fighter jets and nearly 80 modernization kits for its existing warplanes. The deal is potentially worth $6 billion.
Asked about the talks on the issue, Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesperson Tanju Bilgiç said that Turkey and the U.S. were discussing possibly using the payment for the F-35s to finance Ankara’s F-16 purchase.
“The options for us are simple: we will either return to the (F-35) program, get the planes, or they will refund our money. In this framework, using the money we paid for the F-35s for the modernization of the F-16s is on the agenda,” Bilgiç was cited as saying by Reuters.
The decades-old partnership between the NATO allies has gone through unprecedented tumult in the past five years over disagreements on many issues, including Syria and Ankara’s closer ties with Moscow.
Ankara has said it hopes for better ties under the new U.S. administration, but talks have so far yielded little progress.
Earlier this week, Presidency of Defense Industries (SSB) Chairperson Ismail Demir said Turkey could purchase Russia’s Su-35 and Su-57 fighters in the event the U.S. freezes the sale of F-16 fighter jets.
Washington argues that the S-400 air missile systems could be used by Russia to covertly obtain classified details on the F-35 jets and that they are incompatible with NATO systems. Turkey, however, insists that the S-400 would not be integrated into NATO systems and would not pose a threat to the alliance.
Ankara has reiterated on various occasions that its removal from the F-35 program was illegal and unilateral. It has demanded a fair approach and has said that it is open to negotiations with Washington.
The purchase of the S-400s has triggered U.S. sanctions. In December 2020, Washington blacklisted the SSB, its chief Demir and three other employees.