The US has further escalated tensions with Turkey, threatening its NATO ally with removal from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) Program and sanctions if Ankara goes ahead with its purchase of Russian S-400 defence system from Moscow.
Turkey has repeatedly stated that the S-400 agreement is a done deal that cannot be cancelled, reminding Washington that Ankara, an essential component of the F-35 production process, has invested billions of dollars in participating in the program.
Several anonymous US State Department officials say Turkey has just two weeks to decide on the S-400 issue to avoid facing the consequences, which include its termination from the F-35 program.
“We underscore that Turkey will face very real and negative consequences if it completes its S-400 delivery,” one of the State Department officials said.
“NATO countries need to procure military equipment that is interoperable with NATO systems. A Russian system would not meet that standard,” the official added.
But the Turkish defence department has other thoughts about both the US threat for removal from the program and the interoperability issue between S-400s and F-35s.
“They cannot kick us out from the program, which has the participation of nine countries, without getting the consent of all the members,” a Turkish defence department official said.
“There are no articles in the agreement regulating the removal of a participant country from the program,” the official, who requested anonymity, told TRT World.
Because of the lack of regulations in the agreement, he concludes that Turkey cannot be removed from the program.
Meanwhile, the Turkish defence department continues its preparations to receive F-35s in November and expects to receive the delivery of S-400s from Russia in June, the official also said.
When asked about what Turkey would do if the US refuses to delivery of the F-35s, Turkish deputy foreign minister Yavuz Selim Kiran said that Ankara will not conduct its policy over assumptions.
“There have been no disruption in terms of delivery of F-35s [to Turkey]. Our pilots have been still receiving their training [in the US],” Kiran said.
“The F-35 program is based on a very comprehensive deal agreed [by nine countries]. Every state, which is loyal to [international] law norms, should be careful [about not violating] this agreement,” Kiran warned.
Turkey wants delivery
Turkey has invested more than $1.25 billion in the F-35 program since 2002 and it was supposed to have received 100 F-35 fighter planes this year. But the Trump administration postponed the crucial delivery for the second time in August.
The JSF program is the world’s most expensive arms project to date and Turkey is a key producer of the F-35 manufacturing parts for all variants and customers.
“One way or another, [the F-35s] will come. There is no possibility against that. If the US refuses delivery of the F-35s to Turkey, then, it means a shift [in Ankara’s whole alliance system],” the official emphasised.
Omer Celik, the governing AK Party spokesman, also underlined Turkey’s complicated geopolitical position— where instability has been more of a rule than an exception for decades — to explain why it needs a powerful air defence system.
“Every step Turkey takes to ensure its security will also benefit its allies,” Celik emphasised, during a press conference on May 22.
He also indicated that Turkey gives the utmost importance to the NATO alliance.
The defence official also draws attention to the fact that if Turkey were to be removed from the program, the whole agreement should be renewed or go through another round of approvals in each participant country, which will bring several unnecessary obstacles to implementing the program.
Removing Turkey from the program could be a violation of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed among the member states of the program, according to Turkish legal experts.
The Turkish defence ministry also disagrees with US State Department officials on the interoperability issue raised by Washington periodically to dissuade Ankara from buying Russian S-400s.
“We will use S-400s and F-35s for different purposes. There will be no hardware or software relationship between these two systems whatsoever,” the defence source said.
“We told our counterparts in the US that we have a very powerful relationship and alliance, having a long history. We can form joint mechanisms, which could be led by NATO, to discuss whether the S-400 system is a threat for NATO’s security system or not,” Celik, the AK Party spokesman said.