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Turkey calls US action to exclude Ankara from F-35 program ‘unfair’

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivers his weekly speech to members of the parliament on October 23, 2018, in Ankara, Turkey. (Depo Photos/Zuma Press/TNS)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Turkey condemned as “unfair” a U.S. move to exclude it from the American-led F-35 stealth fighter jet program following Ankara’s purchase of the Russian-made S-400 missile defense system.

“This one-sided step neither complies with the spirit of alliance nor is it based on legitimate reasons,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement late on July 17.

“It is unfair to remove Turkey, one of the partners in the F-35 program,” the ministry said as it rejected assertions that the S-400 system would be a danger to NATO-operated F-35s.

“We invite the US to take back this error which will pave the way to irreparable damage to our strategic relations,” the Turkish ministry added.

The United States earlier on July 17 said that Turkey’s decision to acquire the Russian-made air-defense system “renders its continued involvement with the F-35 impossible.”

U.S. and NATO military officials have long opposed Turkey’s involvement with the S-400, saying it was not compatible with alliance systems and would endanger the F-35 jets themselves. Washington said a purchase would automatically require the United States to set sanctions against Ankara.

The White House statement did not say explicitly that Turkey would be thrown out of the F-35 program, although the Pentagon did.

“The U.S. and other F-35 partners are aligned in this decision to suspend Turkey from the program and initiate the process to formally remove Turkey from the program,” said Ellen Lord, the under secretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment.

Lord also said that Ankara’s participation will be over by early next year.

“We are proceeding with a very orderly wind-down by March 2020,” she said.

Turkey received the first three shipments of S-400 components on July 12 and a fourth shipment on July 13, defying threats of sanctions from the United States.

Turkey makes numerous components for the stealth aircraft, and the United States will have to find alternative suppliers.

The Pentagon said shifting F-35 production work from Turkey will cost $500 million to $600 million.

Turkey has also ordered more than 100 of the F-35 jets for $1.4 billion for use by its own military, and U.S. officials say that deal will be blocked because of the S-400 purchase.

U.S. President Donald Trump on July 16 backed off from criticizing Turkey for purchasing the Russian system, saying that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was prevented from buying the U.S.-made Patriot system by his predecessor, Barack Obama.

Trump lamented the loss of the sale of jets to Turkey, saying manufacturer Lockheed Martin would suffer.

“Because they have a system of missiles that’s made in Russia, they’re now prohibited from buying over 100 planes. I would say that Lockheed isn’t exactly happy. That’s a lot of jobs,” Trump said.