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Turkey Protests US Effort to Block Sale of F-35 Fighters

FILE - Turkish Ambassador Serdar Kilic, center, speaks to reporters and supporters near the White House in Washington, May 15, 2017.
FILE - Turkish Ambassador Serdar Kilic, center, speaks to reporters and supporters near the White House in Washington, May 15, 2017.

Turkey is protesting U.S. lawmakers' efforts to block delivery of F-35 fighter jets to Ankara because of Turkey's commitment to also buy a Russian missile defense system instead of a U.S.-made system.

Turkey's ambassador to Washington, Serdar Kilic, told VOA that if Congress eventually approves legislation now under consideration blocking the sale of more than 100 of the warplanes to Turkey, it could further impair contentious relations between the two NATO allies.

"Until today, we have contributed over $800 million to the F-35 project through the production process," Kilic said. "Two of these aircrafts were delivered to the Turkish government. I hope Congress will not take such a decision" to curb further sales.

He said if the sales of the Joint Strike Fighter jets are blocked, the "U.S. may lose its reputation as a reliable supplier in America's defense industry." The U.S. is easily the world's biggest arms exporter.

At the center of the dispute is Ankara's agreement last December to buy Russia's S-400 surface-to-air batteries, to boost its defenses against Kurdish fighters and Islamist militants.

But U.S. officials say Turkey's deployment of the Russian missile defense system, at the same time the F-35 jet fighters are flying over Europe, could give Moscow access to sensitive and secret technology used in the aircraft.

"We are concerned that by purchasing these systems from the Russians, it will be supportive of some of the least good behavior that we have seen from them," Tina Kaidanow, acting assistant secretary of the State Department's Bureau of Political Military Affairs, said this week.

U.S. Air Force General Tod Wolters, the NATO allied air commander, said at a British air show, "Anything that an S-400 can do that affords it the ability to better understand a capability like the F-35 is certainly not to the advantage" of NATO, the West's main military alliance.

The U.S. is pushing the sale of the American-made Patriot missile defense system, which the Turks have twice passed over, first choosing a Chinese system and then the Russian S-400 system.

Kaidanow said, "We're trying to give the Turks some understanding of what we can do with respect to the Patriots."

In the interview with VOA, Kilic said, "I don't see Turkey's purchase of S-400s as a threat to America. The Turkish government won't say, 'Let's do something that could also threaten America.'"

He added, "Turkey is in need of an air defense system. How we will supply it, how we will meet it? If you see Turkey as only a buyer, if you don't consider as an ally, see it as a joint production, a technology transfer, in these matters if you say, 'Don't deal with these, just pay the money, buy this system,' if you're in such an approach, it won't be a defense industry reception carried out as allied partners."

Kilic said if the U.S. sees the Russian S-400 system as a threat, it could work to alleviate concerns with joint production of the Patriot system and technology transfers.