U.S. President Donald Trump said Tuesday that the current situation with Turkey over F-35 jets was not fair, as the country had wanted to buy U.S. Patriot missiles before but Washington had refused at the time.
Trump's comments to reporters, made at a Cabinet meeting at the White House, follow Turkey's purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defense system, which has raised tensions with the United States and other NATO allies.
"The situation with Turkey is very complex and tough. We are in contact with Turkish officials," he said, expressing his reluctance to punish Turkey over its acquisition.
The president said the U.S. repeatedly turned down Turkey's requests to purchase Patriot missile systems in the past and that the whole situation was unfair.
Trump again appeared to blame his predecessor, Barack Obama, for failing to sell America's best alternative to the Russian S-400s — Patriot missiles, made by Raytheon Co. He said Turkey was "forced to buy another missile system."
"The Obama administration would not sell them the Patriot missiles. They needed the Patriot missiles for defense. They would not sell them under any circumstance. And Turkey tried very hard to buy them and they wouldn't sell them, and this went on for a long period of time," Trump said and added that Washington only decided to sell the Patriots after Ankara decided to buy S-400s instead.
"All of a sudden, everybody started rushing in saying to Turkey, okay, we'll sell you the Patriot missile."
"Because of the fact that (Turkey) bought a Russian missile, we're not allowed to sell them billions of dollars' worth of aircraft. It's not a fair situation," Trump said, lamenting the jobs that would be lost.
He said Turkey ordered "substantially over" 100 F-35 planes and plans to order more but the U.S. would not sell the fighter jets after Ankara's purchase of S-400s.
"Turkey is very good with us, very good, and we are now telling Turkey that because you have really been forced to buy another missile system, we're not going to sell you the F-35 fighter jets. It's a very tough situation that they're in, and it's a very tough situation that we've been placed in, the United States," Trump told reporters.
He said the U.S. and Turkey were continuing talks to resolve the issue.
"We're working through it, we'll see what happens. But it's not really fair. He (President Erdoğan) wanted to buy our Patriot missile. We wouldn't sell it… And then when he made a deal with another country, Russia, to buy their system that he didn't even want, and then all of a sudden, we say oh, okay, we'll now sell you the patriot. And because of the fact he bought a Russian missile, we are not allowed to sell him billions of dollars' worth of aircraft. It's not a fair situation," he said.
Following protracted efforts to purchase an air defense system from the U.S. with no success, Ankara signed a contract in 2017 to purchase the Russian S-400s.
U.S. officials urged Turkey to buy American-made Patriot missiles, arguing that the Russian system would be incompatible with NATO systems and expose F-35 Joint Strike Fighters to possible Russian subterfuge. Turkey, however, emphasized the S-400 would not be integrated into NATO systems and would not pose a threat to the alliance.