44 members of US Congress urge Mattis to halt F-35 delivery to Turkey

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It would be “inconceivable” for the United States to go through with a deal supplying advanced F-35 fighter jets to Turkey, 44 members of the US House of Representatives warned in a letter on Friday to Secretary of Defense James Mattis.

Turkey, a NATO ally of the United States and a low level partner in the jet’s production, is set to receive the first of 100 of the jets on order at a rollout ceremony in the United States scheduled for June 21.

However, the deal has met with intense resistance from Congress, both houses of which have produced bipartisan legislation to curtail US weapons sales to Turkey in reprisal for a growing list of problems souring the countries’ relations.

The Senate is expected to vote on a bill to suspend all weapons sales to Turkey before the July 4 holiday; since the first F-35 could be delivered before then, the letter can be seen as an urgent call to Mattis to stop the deal.

“Contrary to its NATO obligations and the expectations that should govern a responsible ally, Turkey is actively operating to undermine US interests around the world,” the signatories of the letter said.

The bipartisan group of congressmen referred to Turkey’s tightening links with Russia, illustrated by Ankara’s purchase of a Russian S-400 missile defense system, and its policies in Syria, which have led to threats by the Turkish president against US forces.

Particularly concerning is the S-400 purchase, which the letter said would “threaten exposure of our most closely guarded military secrets to a major power hostile to NATO and U.S. interests.”

“It is inconceivable that we would place the F-35 technology in the hands of the deepening Russian-Turkish relationship,” it continued.

Other incidents raised in the letter include the arrest of US pastor Andrew Brunson, a long-term resident in Turkey accused of links to terrorist organizations, and the violence exhibited by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s security detail during a state visit to Washington, DC.

“The brazenness of this assault and Turkey’s refusal to cooperate with the subsequent investigation demonstrates the level of contempt President Erdogan has for the United States and for our democratic values and exposes Turkey as a practitioner and exporter of extreme, violent authoritarianism,” the letter said.

In reference to a witch hunt being pursued against the faith-based Gülen movement, accused by the Turkish government and President Erdoğan of orchestrating a failed coup in 2016, an allegation strongly denied by the movement, the congressmen said: “Since the coup, Turkey has arbitrarily arrested 160,000 of its own citizens and fired approximately the same number of civil servants. These arrests amount to collective punishment, as Erdogan targets not just critics of his despotic regime but their families as well; more than 600 children are currently imprisoned in Turkey. Arbitrary detention and sham trials are hallmarks of authoritarianism. These mass firings and arrests of journalists, academics, civil servants, judges, and others are designed to intimidate any opposition to Erdogan and chill the freedoms that are the pillars of any free society.”

Urging Mattis to halt the planned delivery of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey, the representatives said, “We must hold Turkey accountable for conduct that threatens U.S. national security, undermines the interests of our partners and allies, and represents a broadside attack against fundamental democratic values.”

(Ahval with Turkish Minute)

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