Turkey will meet needs elsewhere if US does not sell F-35 jets, FM says

DAILY SABAH
ISTANBUL
Published
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AA File Photo

Turkey will turn to other markets if the United States does not allow it to buy Lockheed Martin's F-35 jets, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu was quoted as saying by reporters on his return flight from Germany.

There is no reason for the U.S. not to deliver us the F-35, and such a serious project cannot be canceled for artificial reasons, the minister stressed.

"Turkey has delivered its commitments until today. It has made its payments on time. This is not just a purchase of F-35 aircraft. It is a comprehensive agreement with strong legal infrastructure, which includes the production of some spare parts," Çavuşoğlu said.

Çavuşoğlu said there had not yet been any pressure from the U.S. administration to scrap a deal to buy the jets, adding this wasn't an agreement Washington could pull out of as it wished.

The U.S. is expected to begin delivery of F-35 fighters to Turkey later this year, with the first shipment slated for June 21.

The F-35 agreement is a serious agreement, Çavuşoğlu said. "We do not want the U.S., which is our ally, to take steps that would damage our relations," he said, adding that they think F-35s would be delivered on time.

Turkey could turn to other markets if the delivery of the said aircraft is late or does not happen, the foreign minister said. "According to the worst case scenario, if we need it, we would definitely attempt to acquire it from our other allies or other countries."

Çavuşoğlu remarked that Russia or any other country that is a NATO member could be an alternative regarding the said issue and that it would not be right to depend only on one country. "Turkey cannot remain without alternatives or help," the foreign minister added.

The Turkish foreign minister noted that if the F-35 delivery is not carried out or one of the sides withdraws, necessary steps will be taken from the legal point of view according to the contract.

In 2014, Turkey placed an order for the first two F-35 jets for a projected fleet of 100 F-35A aircraft and plans to deploy the aircraft by 2019.

Meanwhile, a U.S. Senate committee passed on last Thursday a defense policy bill in which measures to prevent Turkey from purchasing the F-35 jets were included.

The amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, from Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen and Republican Senator Thom Tillis, would remove Turkey from the F-35 program over the country's detention of U.S. citizen Andrew Brunson, Shaheen's office said. The bill also cites Turkey's agreement with Russia to buy S-400 surface-to-air missile batteries.

In responding to the U.S. Senate bill, Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson Hami Aksoy also said the latest U.S. move targeted Turkey to persuade it to drop its S-400 defense system deal with Russia and release American pastor Andrew Brunson, who is held in Turkey on terror charges for his links to the PKK and the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ).

During a press conference in Ankara on Friday, Aksoy said that Turkey has "fulfilled all requirements" of the multinational Joint Strike Fighter Program to produce Lockheed Martin's F-35 Lightning II. Aksoy underscored that the multinational program contract assigns specific responsibilities to all involved parties and Turkey expects the U.S. to fulfill all contractual responsibilities.

"Such steps are contrary to the spirit of alliance we have with the U.S.," Aksoy said. Referring to Foreign Affairs Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu's remarks on the subject, Aksoy added that Turkey would have to retaliate if U.S. acts in contravention to the F-35 program requirements.

The Undersecretariat for Defense Industries (SSM) plans to supply 100 F-35A aircraft to the Turkish Air Force Command as part of the Joint Offensive Aircraft (F-35) Project, which Turkey joined as a partner country, to meet the needs of the Air Force Command's next generation warplane.

Apart from Turkey, the U.S., U.K., Italy, the Netherlands, Canada, Australia, Norway and Denmark are also present as participant members to the program.

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