Delegations from the Turkish and U.S. defense ministries are planning to hold a second meeting in Washington on the F-35 fighter jet issue in the following months, Turkish Defense Ministry sources said Monday.
The United States and Turkey have held another round of talks aimed at resolving the dispute over Ankara's removal from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, the Pentagon announced last Wednesday.
Spokesperson Lt. Col. Anton Semelroth said top Pentagon officials Andrew Winternitz and Melissa Benkert led a U.S. delegation for a visit to Ankara on Oct. 27 "for dispute resolution discussions to address remaining issues resulting from Turkey's removal from the F-35 program, which was finalized on Sept. 23." They were joined by a delegation from Turkey's Defense Ministry, the Pentagon said.
"The meeting demonstrates the commitment of the U.S. government to conclude respectfully Turkey's prior involvement in the F-35 program," Semelroth said in a statement. "Discussions were productive, and the delegations plan to meet again in the coming months in Washington, D.C.," he added.
Turkish Defense Ministry sources also said Monday that the two countries' delegations held a meeting in Ankara last week to resolve the conflict on the F-35 and to discuss financial issues.
At the end of the meeting, it was agreed to continue negotiations, sources said adding: "The first meeting was held. Both sides presented their perspectives and their own positions. The second meeting is planned to be held in Washington in a few months. In conversations, methods for problems' solutions are discussed."
In response to the question of whether the issues related to Turkey's return to the F-35 program will also be discussed during the meetings, they said: "We have put forward our position. We have an opinion, firstly, to return to the F-35 program, and secondly, to deliver the allocated aircraft, if this does not happen, the money we paid will be refunded. Negotiations will continue in this context."
The U.S. under former President Donald Trump removed Turkey from the F-35 stealth fighter program in 2019 over Ankara's purchase of Russia's advanced S-400 air defense system, which U.S. officials maintain poses risks to the F-35s, including the possibility that Russia could covertly use the system to obtain classified details on the jet.
Turkey has argued that it only turned to the Russian system after failing to reach terms during protracted negotiations with the U.S. over the acquisition of Raytheon's Patriot surface-to-air missile systems. Ankara has said the S-400 poses no risk to the F-35. U.S. officials also argue the S-400 systems are incompatible with NATO systems, a claim Ankara rejects, saying that the S-400 would not be integrated into NATO systems and would not pose a threat to the alliance.
Turkey ordered some 100 F-35s, and its defense sector played prominently in the development and manufacture of the fifth-generation fighter jets.
Recently, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said, "Turkey will recoup money paid to the U.S. for F-35s one way or another." The president recently underlined 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.
The decades-old partnership between the two NATO allies, Turkey and the U.S., has gone through unprecedented tumult in the past five years over disagreements on many issues, including Syria and Ankara’s closer ties with Moscow. There are additional sources of strain for the two countries, including the U.S. support for the Syrian branch of the PKK, the YPG, whom Turkey considers terrorists; and the continued U.S. residency of Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) figures including its head Fethullah Gülen, who plotted the failed coup attempt against the Turkish government in 2016.
Ankara has said it hopes for better ties under the new U.S. administration, but talks have so far yielded little progress.
Last 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. 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 also triggered U.S. sanctions. In December 2020, Washington blacklisted the SSB, its chief Demir and three other employees.
Most recently, Erdoğan and United States President Joe Biden met on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Rome on Sunday and expressed their joint desire to strengthen bilateral relations that have been strained as of late, agreeing to establish a joint mechanism in this direction.
Biden showed a "positive attitude" about the sale of the F-16 fighter jets, Erdoğan told a news conference at the G-20 summit in Rome on Sunday.
"The issue of modernizing the F-16s we have or giving new F-16s came to the fore (during the meeting with Biden). Our defense ministers are following the process," Erdoğan told reporters.
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