Turkey fulfills its responsibilities for F-35 program: Defense Minister
Emphasizing that F-35 fighter jets were developed under an ongoing joint project, Turkey fulfills its obligations of the program, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said on late May 21.
“We, as the Republic of Turkey, fulfill our responsibilities in a serious and sincere manner,” he told a group of journalists.
Turkey had four pilots and 47 military personnel in the United States to receive training, he said. The jets will later be deployed in Turkey’s eastern Malatya province. Turkey’s push to buy the S-400 air defense missile system from Russia has strained relations with the United States, a NATO ally.
U.S. defense officials worry that integrating Russian technology with Turkey’s Western equipment could pose a security breach by making it easier for the Russians to intercept U.S. communications and to target U.S. jets. They also argue the Russian-made system is incompatible with NATO defense equipment.
U.S. officials have suggested that Turkey instead buy the U.S. Patriot missile system. They have threatened to suspend delivery of the jets to Turkey if the Turkish government goes ahead with procurement of Russian systems.
Akar said that while he sees progress in talks with the United States over the creation of a possible safe zone in Syria and the purchase of Patriot systems, Ankara also is preparing for potential U.S. sanctions.
Turkey “makes necessary preparations for what to do if the case comes to” U.S. penalties under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which prohibits business with Russia’s state and private defense and intelligence sectors, he said.
Turkey received a new proposal from the United States regarding the sale of the Patriot system on March 28-29, with new terms concerning price, technology transfer, common production and some terms of the technology update.
The minister also said that his French counterpart Florence Parly had proposed deploying French Samp-T air defense batteries in Turkey. The proposal came during his visit to France with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, he said, adding that a deal could be reached in the coming period as a symbol of “Turkish-French goodwill.”
He added that such a deal would be realized upon Erdoğan’s approval.
Elaborating on recent efforts by Russia and Turkey to preserve a truce in Syria’s northwestern province Idlib, Akar accused the Syrian regime of threatening the ceasefire deal.
“The regime is doing all that it can to break the status quo, including using barrel bombs [and] land and air offensives,” Akar stated. Asked about the security threat posed against the Turkish soldiers in Turkish observation points, Akar said there are no plans to withdraw troops there.
“Turkish armed forces will not take a step back from wherever they may be,” he said.
Turkish personnel in Russia for training
Turkish military personnel are currently receiving training in Russia for the use of the S-400 air defense system, the defense minister said.
“We’ve sent personnel to Russia for S-400 training that will begin in the coming days and will span the following months,” Akar said, adding that Russian soldiers will also come to Turkey.
“We need to set up an air defense system to protect our 82 million people and our country,” Akar said, stressing that Turkey was under threat of air and missile attacks from Syrian borders.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on May 22 said Moscow sees the negative U.S. approach to Turkey’s purchase of the S-400s as “unacceptable.”
“As Ankara also expressed, the S-400 deal is a done deal,” Peskov said. “Russia considers this kind of approach extremely unfavorable.”