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May 30, 2018 10:23 am

Turkey to Look Elsewhere for Jets if US Blocks F-35 Sale

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A Lockheed Martin F-35 aircraft is seen at the ILA Air Show in Berlin, Germany, April 25, 2018. Photo: Reuters / Axel Schmidt / File.

Turkey will buy jets elsewhere if the United States stops it buying Lockheed Martin F-35s, Ankara’s foreign minister was quoted as saying amid tensions between the allies over defense and the fate of a jailed US pastor.

NATO member Turkey has caused unease in Washington with its decision to buy S-400 surface-to-air missiles from Russia and drawn criticism over its detention of a US Christian pastor, Andrew Brunson, on terrorism charges.

A US Senate committee last week passed its version of a $716 billion defense policy bill, including a measure to prevent Turkey from buying the Lockheed jets, citing Brunson and the Russian missile deal.

Turkey could procure jets elsewhere, broadcaster NTV cited Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu as telling reporters on his return flight from a visit to Germany, although it was unlikely that Washington would be able to back out of the deal.

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“The pre-payments for this project have been made. This is a comprehensive agreement. It’s not just purchasing, but also joint production,” NTV quoted Cavusoglu as saying.

Turkey has plans to buy more than 100 of the F-35 jets and last year the Pentagon last year awarded Lockheed $3.7 billion in an interim payment for the production of 50 of the aircraft earmarked for non-US customers, including Ankara.

Brunson faces up to 35 years in prison on charges of links to the network Ankara blames for a 2016 coup attempt. The pastor denied the charges in a Turkish court this month.

Syria policy

Relations between Washington and Ankara have been tested by several recent developments, including the sentencing this month of a former Turkish state bank executive to 32 months in prison for taking part in an Iran sanctions-busting scheme, a case Turkey has called a political attack.

Differences over Syria policy and Washington’s decision to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem have also angered Ankara. In particular, Turkey has been outraged by US support for the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia — a group Turkey regards as a terrorist organization.

However, Cavusoglu said separately on Wednesday that an understanding had been reached in Washington over Syria’s northern Manbij area, where the militants would leave.

A timetable for the plans could be decided during talks with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo next week, he told broadcaster AHaber.

The plans for Manbij could be implemented before the end of the summer if an agreement were reached, Cavusoglu said, adding that US and Turkish forces would control the region until a new administration was formed.

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