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US lawmakers urge Turkey to drop Russian missile system for F-35 fighter jets

Members of US Congress says American fighter jets will be delivered if Turkey cancels its agreement to buy Russian system
An F-35 fighter jet at the International Paris Air Show in 2017 (AFP)

US politicians told Turkish MPs this week that if they scrap a deal to buy Russian missile systems, the US will once again sell F-35 fighter jets to Ankara, according to Turkish media reports.

In June, the US Senate approved a bill that would block or delay the sale of the fighter jets to Turkey. US President Trump then earlier this month delayed the delivery of jets to Turkey for at least 90 days. 

US lawmakers have voiced concerns that Russia could collect intelligence on the F-35 technology through the S-400 system.

Turkey, which has been establishing closer links with Moscow in recent years as its ties with the US and Europe have become strained, agreed to buy the Russian missile systems last September.

The three-member delegation, led by Republican Congressman Michael Turner, told Turkish parliamentarians that the only way to guarantee delivery of the American fighter jets would be giving up the Russian deal.

During the discussion, Turkish officials reportedly reminded the delegates that Ankara has wanted to buy the US-made Patriot air defence system for years, but that the Turkish government has grown increasingly sceptical about the transaction ever taking place.

On Tuesday, Mevlut Cavusoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, said Turkey had been eager to buy the Patriot surface-to-air missile system, but was rebuffed by the Americans.

“We urgently need an air defence system, and we wanted to buy it from our partners, especially from the US. But those countries couldn’t or didn’t want to sell to us,” said Cavusoglu.

“Can the US promise us the deliveries of Patriots? But I have to defend my air space, everybody around has missiles. It’s obligatory for my security, it’s not a choice.”

He added: “Turkey is not a state of the US, it’s an independent country... our relations with Russia are not an alternative to our relations with the US or Europe. We are seeking a balance.”

Request for help with Gulen

The US politician's visit comes amid a row between the two countries over the detention of Andrew Brunson, an American evangelical pastor.

The US has demanded his release while Turkey claims Brunson took part in the attempted coup in July 2016.

Earlier this month, the Trump administration imposed sanctions on two Turkish ministers and doubled tariffs on Turkish aluminium and steel. Turkey’s lira has lost about 35 percent of its value since July.

During the delegation’s visit, Turkish officials also asked for more cooperation on the country’s fight against cleric Fethullah Gulen’s organisation, which Ankara accuses of leading a coup attempt to topple Erdogan in July 2016.

One of the ruling AKP MP they met, Ahmet Berat Conkar, posted a tweet with photos of the visit, saying “we talked about all the issues on our agenda in details. We told our people’s feelings.”

Turkish officials told local media outlets that the members of Congress were not eager to talk about Gulen or Pastor Brunson, but instead stressed the need for defence cooperation between two NATO allies.

After the discussion, the delegation visited Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI), a local partner for the F-35 fighter jet production. They also visited NATO Land Command in Izmir and the Incirlik air base in Adana.

According to Turkish local media, officials who met with the US delegation were happy about the fact that they visited the air base in Izmir but didn’t visit Brunson, who is being held under house arrest in the city.

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