October 20, 2019

U.S. Punishes Turkey by Canceling Sale of Jets

U.S. Punishes Turkey by Canceling Sale of Jets


WASHINGTON — The White House informed Turkey, a NATO ally, on Wednesday that the United States would not sell it F-35 stealth fighter jets, in retaliation for the country’s purchase of Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile systems.

President Trump had said a day earlier that Turkey’s order for more than 100 American-made jets would be canceled. The S-400 system is one of Russia’s most advanced antiaircraft weapons and can target and attack aircraft at an average range of roughly 155 miles, flying to an altitude of 82,000 feet.

“The F-35 cannot coexist with a Russian intelligence collection platform that will be used to learn about its advanced capabilities,” the White House said in a statement. “Accepting the S-400 undermines the commitments all NATO allies made to each other to move away from Russian systems.”

“This will have detrimental impacts on Turkish interoperability with the alliance,” the statement said.

Turkey accepted its first shipment last week of its $2.5 billion purchase of Russian S-400 systems.

It was the latest twist in a long-running dispute between the United States and Turkey over the purchase of Russian weapons, and it heightened the possibility of long-threatened American sanctions against a fellow member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

A statement from the Turkish Foreign Ministry said the Trump administration’s action was “incompatible with the spirit of alliance and does not rely on any legitimate justification.”

“We invite the United States to return from this mistake that will cause irreparable wounds in our strategic relations,” the statement said.

The White House statement on Wednesday was more or less final confirmation of a slowdown that stopped weeks ago. The United States had wanted Ankara to buy Patriot missile systems, manufactured by Raytheon, that are the American equivalent of the S-400.

Throughout the dispute, Mr. Trump has insisted that his personal relationship with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey is intact, despite Ankara’s pursuit of the Russian hardware.

For his part, Mr. Erdogan has celebrated the S-400 purchase — and, to a lesser degree, his own defiance — as a sign of Turkey’s increasing independence on the world stage.

“As long as we, as a nation, protect our homeland, our flag, the call for prayer, democracy and the state,” Mr. Erdogan said on Monday during the anniversary celebration of a failed coup attempt against him in 2016, “God willing, no power’s hand will be able to reach them.”

Mr. Trump has in the past praised Mr. Erdogan as an ally in the fight against terrorism while ignoring the Turkish leader’s authoritarian crackdown on his own people. When Mr. Erdogan visited the White House in 2017, the two hailed the arrival of a new era of relations after the presidency of Barack Obama.

This week, Mr. Erdogan appeared ready to trade on that relationship by suggesting that Mr. Trump had the power to waive any sanctions that would arise over the purchase.

Asked on Tuesday whether he would indeed impose sanctions, Mr. Trump deflected by blaming the Obama administration for failing to sell the Patriot missile systems to Turkey. The Obama administration did, in fact, consider selling Patriot missiles to Turkey, but negotiations were repeatedly scuttled.

The White House statement on Wednesday said the Trump administration “made multiple offers to move Turkey to the front of the line.” But a deal never came together.

At the Pentagon on Wednesday, officials referred questions about potential American sanctions against Turkey to the State Department, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Ellen M. Lord, the Defense Department’s under secretary for acquisition and sustainment, said the S-400 and its radar systems could compromise the F-35’s stealth capabilities and jeopardize the fighter jet’s long-term security.

The F-35 program has already cost billions of dollars more than what was budgeted for its production, which was delayed years longer than expected. Ms. Lord said the decision to renege on the sale to Turkey would cost the United States $500 million to $600 million.

She also said Turkey’s suspension from the F-35 program would undoubtedly hit the country’s economy as it continues to grind through a financial crisis.

An estimated 900 mechanical parts for the aircraft — originally intended to be supplied by Turkey — will now be manufactured in the United States and other allied nations. All Turkish pilots who are learning to fly the F-35 jet in the United States will have to return to Turkey.

By March, Ms. Lord said, Turkey will be fully removed from the F-35 program.

Still, Ms. Lord said, the American military’s alliance with Turkey remained strong, and Pentagon officials sought to cast the F-35 dispute as a specific response to a specific incident.

The statement from Turkey’s Foreign Ministry, however, described it as “the lack of the will to resolve the issue in good faith.”



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