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F-35 military plane transfer to Turkey placed on hold: Pentagon

US says that Turkey's decision to buy Russia's S-400 missile defence system is incompatible with American fighter jet
Ankara had planned to replace its military aircraft with dozens of F-35s (AFP)

The United States said Monday it was halting all deliveries and joint work with Turkey on the F-35 fighter jet programme after the NATO ally insisted on a major purchase from Russia.

After months of warnings, the United States said that Turkey's decision to buy Russia's S-400 missile defence system was incompatible with remaining parts of the emblematic US warplane programme.

"Pending an unequivocal Turkish decision to forgo delivery of the S-400, deliveries and activities associated with the stand-up of Turkey's F-35 operational capability have been suspended while our dialogue on this important matter continues with Turkey," the Pentagon said in a statement.

In recent days, US officials told their Turkish counterparts they will not receive further shipments of F-35 related equipment needed to prepare for the arrival of the stealthy jet, two sources familiar with the situation told Reuters on Monday.

Last week, Turkey rebuffed US pressure to purchase the Russian missile defence system, saying Ankara was already in discussions over the delivery of the disputed S-400 defence system. 

"We have signed a deal with Russia, and this deal is valid. Now we are discussing the delivery process," Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said during a press conference with his Russian counterpart in the Turkish city of Antalya.

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Also last week, four US senators introduced a bill to block Turkey's participation in America's F-35 fighter jet programme.

Turkey has said it will take a delivery of the S-400s in July, Reuters reported.

The disagreement over the F-35 is the latest of a series of diplomatic disputes between the United States and Turkey, including Turkish demands that the United States extradite Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, differences over Middle East policy and the war in Syria, and sanctions on Iran.

Turkish officials in Ankara have not commented on the US’s decision to withhold the planes.

The US decision on the F-35s complicates Cavusoglu's planned visit to Washington this week for a NATO summit.

The United States and other NATO allies that own F-35s fear the radar on the Russian S-400 missile system will learn how to spot and track the jet, making it less able to evade Russian weapons in the future.

Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar in March said that despite some issues, Turkish pilots were continuing their training at an air base in Arizona on the F-35, each of which costs $90m, and that Ankara was expecting the aircraft to arrive in Turkey in November.

Ankara had planned to replace its F-16 fleet in the near future with dozens of F-35s.