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White House says Turkey's role in F-35 program now 'impossible'

Tony Capaccio, Bloomberg News on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- The White House said Turkey's continued participation in the F-35 fighter jet program is now "impossible" because of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's decision to begin receiving parts for a Russian-made missile defense system.

"The F-35 cannot coexist with a Russian intelligence collection platform that will be used to learn about its advanced capabilities," according to a White House statement on Wednesday.

It's a move President Donald Trump has made clear he was reluctant to take, telling reporters on Tuesday that "it is a very tough situation that they are in, and it's a tough situation that we have been placed in, the United States."

The Trump administration's decision is separate from economic sanctions Trump might impose on Turkey through the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, or CAATSA. Those penalties range from limiting the size of American bank loans to Turkish entities to more severe efforts such as cutting off access to the U.S. financial system, an unlikely step that would shatter the already-fragile Turkish economy.

Turkey, with its planned purchases of about 100 of the F-35s made by Lockheed Martin Corp., is one of the four top foreign customers for the world's costliest weapons program, along with Japan, Australia and the U.K. Ten Turkish companies may be suspended from making more than 900 parts for the F-35 that over the program's lifetime could generate more than $9 billion in orders. Turkey's first two jets were to have been delivered later this year.

The Pentagon said last month that Turkey's participation in the F-35 program would end by July 31.

Despite having the second-biggest military in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Turkey has increasingly been at odds in recent years with the U.S. and the West. Erdogan blames Washington for shielding an exiled Muslim cleric in Pennsylvania he says was behind the failed putsch and has bristled at higher tariffs imposed on his country by the Trump administration. He's also pushed to get the U.S. to withdraw forces from neighboring Syria, where he'd like to target Kurdish militias allied with Washington.

Nevertheless, Erdogan has sought to blunt any sanctions effort by appealing directly to Trump. Referring to a conversation the two leaders had at the G-20 meeting in Japan last month, Erdogan has said that Trump doesn't favor sanctions, even if they are supported by some U.S. officials.

 

The U.S. has long said Turkey's decision to buy the Russian equipment is incompatible with its role in both NATO and the F-35 program. In a June 6 letter to Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, then-Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said there was still time for Turkey "to change course on the S-400" missile system, but he also laid out a timeline of how cooperation on the next-generation fighter will wind down.

Erdogan has repeatedly said the purchase is essential to meeting his country's air defense needs. But the move comes as he and Russian President Vladimir Putin have sought to bolster ties.

Members of Congress from both parties have expressed outrage over the S-400 purchase and are likely to press for the toughest sanctions on a menu of options in the CAATSA act.

(c)2019 Bloomberg News

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