US unable to remove Turkey from F-35 program, says Turkish defense official

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TEXAS, USA - JUNE 21: An F-35 fighter jet is seen as Turkey takes delivery of its first F-35 fighter jet with a ceremony in Forth Worth, Texas, USA on June 21, 2018. Atilgan Ozdil / Anadolu Agency

The United States cannot unilaterally remove Turkey from the F-35 fighter jet program as the partnership agreement does not allow it, the head of Turkey’s Undersecretariat for the Defense Industry (SSM) said on Friday, according to Reuters. 

“No single country can say they don’t want you and then remove you from the program,” İsmail Demir told reporters.

“This isn’t part of the agreement, this isn’t something you can just say ‘I exclude you’ about. The F-35 project is a partnership, and nowhere in the agreement does it allow a unilateral removal of one country,” he said. 

Ankara and Washington have been at loggerheads for months over Turkey’s planned purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defense system. The United States says the S-400s are incompatible with NATO’s defense network and could compromise its F-35 fighter jets, an aircraft Turkey is helping build and planning to buy.

In a letter to Turkey, the Pentagon warned Ankara will be pulled out of the F-35 program unless it changes course. Washington has already stopped accepting more Turkish pilots for training in the US and halted delivery of equipment related to the program. 

The United States says Turkey’s S-400 acquisition poses a threat to Lockheed Martin Corp’s F-35s. It has threatened to impose sanctions on Ankara under its Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), the possibility of which has spooked investors and helped cause a selloff in the lira this year.  Demir said such sanctions could have a brief impact on Turkey’s defense industry.

“Our defense industry produces parts for the F-35, so in the event of sanctions being imposed, our industry would experience a rough patch, but we’ll then get past this,” he said.

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