US lawmakers seek to ban sales of F-35s to ‘hostile & thuggish’ Turkey

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American lawmakers have introduced a new bipartisan bill seeking to ban F-35 deliveries to an “increasingly hostile and authoritarian” Turkey, partly because of Ankara’s decision to purchase Russia’s missile defense systems.

Seeking to pressure Turkey into behaving in a manner worthy of NATO “standards,” and to limit sharing of the alliance’s assets with “hostile actors,” Democratic Rhode Island Congressman David Cicilline introduced a bipartisan ‘Ban F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Sales to Turkey Act’ on Thursday.

Fearing that Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government is growing “increasingly hostile and authoritarian by the day,” US lawmakers are calling for a complete ban on the sale or transfer of F-35 aircraft, as well as intellectual property and technical data, to Turkey. Any potential transfers of the multirole stealth fighters would only be possible if the US president certifies that Ankara is not “taking steps to degrade NATO interoperability, exposing NATO assets to hostile actors, or degrading the general security of NATO member countries.”

Another three proposed conditions for the transfer of the fifth-generation warplanes include US presidential assurances that Ankara is not seeking to “purchase defense articles from a foreign country with respect to which sanctions are imposed by the United States,” jail US citizens, or participate in “military action” which violates international law.

Turkey has been seeking to purchase 116 F-35 units under the Joint Strike Fighter program deals signed in 2014 and 2016. However, the first deliveries of Lockheed Martin planes, slated for 2018-2019, were jeopardized by the growing rift between Washington and Ankara on a number of issues – including Turkey’s military operation in Syria and its decision to purchase Russian S-400 air-defense systems.

NATO countries fear that simultaneously operating both S-400s and F-35s could compromise the multi-billion-dollar program and expose its vulnerabilities, since Turkey seeks to combine all information systems on the F-35 Lightning II fifth-generation fighters with the Turkish Air Forces’ system network.

“We cannot turn a blind eye to Turkey’s thuggish, reprehensible behavior,” said Cicilline, who serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “There has to be consequences for any regime that commits such horrific human rights abuses and constantly steps out of line with our own interests. Banning the sale of these state-of-the-art weapons to Turkey is just common sense. It’s important that we hold NATO members to the same standard we would hold any other country.”

One of the co-sponsors of Thursday’s bill, Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) is also seeking bi-partisan support for ‘Relocating US Nuclear Weapons from Turkey Review Act of 2018,’ which has yet to be introduced in Congress. Under NATO nuclear sharing, the US keeps around 180 B61 nuclear gravity bombs in Europe, including around 50 at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey. The other five sites are in Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Italy. In a letter addressed to US lawmakers, the congressman argues that storing some 50 nukes in Turkey is dangerous and illogical.

“Storing US nuclear weapons in Turkey no longer makes sense,” Bilirakis wrote. “Turkey doesn’t even have aircraft for delivering them. They would if the United States foolishly sells F-35 aircraft to Turkey, as I have opposed. Turkey is deepening political, economic, and military ties to Russia and China, the two countries the F-35 is most needed to deter and, if necessary, counter.”

The hotly discussed Turkey-Russia deal may signal closer relations between both nations, as well as a growing rift between Ankara and its NATO allies, mainly the US. Washington has repeatedly relayed its “concerns” to Turkish officials regarding the S-400 potential purchase. On one occasion, US Defense Secretary James Mattis noted that S-400s are “not going to be interoperable with NATO systems.” 

Earlier in April, Assistant Secretary of State Wess Mitchell warned that Ankara’s decision to buy Russia’s advanced complexes exposes Turkey to possible US sanctions and may bar it from getting F-35 jets. “Ankara claims to have agreed to purchase the Russian S-400 missile system, which could potentially lead to sanctions” under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), he said. The document was signed back in August 2017 and is mostly aimed at hindering Russian arms exports.

Earlier this week, the House Armed Services Committee advanced a defense authorization bill, which seeks to ban “major defense equipment” transfers to Turkey. The document notes that S-400 sales “could negatively impact common weapon system development between the United States and Turkey” and “exacerbate current interoperability challenges with respect to common military architecture and information sharing.” 

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