A top US State Department official warned Turkey on Tuesday that its purchase of Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets would be jeopardized if it does not drop a plan to buy a S-400 missile defense system from Russia, Reuters reported.
If Turkey buys the system, it would also be subject to sanctions under a bill President Donald Trump signed into law last summer, US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Wess Mitchell testified at a hearing held by the US Senate Subcommittee on Europe and Regional Cooperation on Tuesday morning.
The sanctions law, known as CAATSA, seeks to punish companies that do business with Russia’s defense industry.
“We’ve also been very clear that across the board, an acquisition of S-400 will inevitably affect the prospects for Turkish military-industrial cooperation with the United States, including F-35,” Mitchell told the subcommittee.
Ties between Washington and Ankara have been strained in recent months over a host of issues, including US policy in Syria and legal cases against American citizens detained in Turkey, most notably a pastor named Andrew Brunson who is being tried on terrorism charges, accusations the cleric strongly denies.
Mitchell estimated there are about two dozen Americans detained in Turkey, many of them dual nationals.
But Mitchell also praised Turkey, a member of NATO, as “a crucial ally and partner,” citing its support for the campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) terrorist group.
“We work with them very closely in intelligence and in other areas, but this has the potential to spike the punch,” he said.
“I think we can’t be any clearer than saying that, both privately and publicly, that a decision on the S-400 will qualitatively change the US-Turkish relationship in a way that will be very difficult to repair,” Mitchell said.
Various pieces of legislation have been making their way through Congress that would block the transfer of the jets to Turkey over its plan to purchase the Russian system.
Mitchell said the administration believes it has the legal authority to withhold the transfer of the military jets to Turkey, if need be, without Congress passing legislation.
Lockheed Martin held a ceremony last week to mark the rollout of the first two F-35 jets for Turkey. The aircraft was headed to Arizona, where F-35 training for Turkish pilots will take place.