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US President Trump reluctantly bans F-35 sales to Turkey

U.S. President Donald Trump (R) speaks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as they arrive for a working dinner at the Art and History Museum in The Parc du Cinquantenaire - Jubelpark Park in Brussels on July 11, 2018, during the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / Geert Vanden Wijngaert

US President Donald Trump said Tuesday that Turkey will be prohibited from purchasing American F-35 fighter jets after acquiring a Russian air defense system but made no mention of sanctions that the US is legally required to impose after Turkey purchased the Russian equipment, CNN reported.

According to CNN, Trump misrepresented the developments that led to Turkey’s decision to purchase the Russian system, blaming the Obama administration for the situation and sympathizing with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for the “very tough situation that they’ve been forced in.”

“Because they have a system of missiles that’s made in Russia, they’re now prohibited from buying over 100 planes,” Trump said of Turkey during in a Cabinet meeting. “I would say that [F-35 manufacturer] Lockheed isn’t exactly happy. That’s a lot of jobs. And frankly I’ve always had a very good relationship” with Erdoğan, Trump added.

Speaking from the White House, Trump bemoaned the decision, saying it was the fault of the previous administration for refusing to sell Turkey a similar US system.

That isn’t accurate, CNN reported, saying that the US has worked to sell Turkey a Patriot missile system since 2013, but Washington had balked at Turkey’s technology transfer demands.

Trump said the decision to ban F-35 sales was one he was making reluctantly.

“We are now telling Turkey that because you have really been forced to buy another missile system, we’re not going to sell you the F-35 fighter jets,” the president said. “It’s a very tough situation that they’re in and it’s a very tough situation that we’ve been placed in, the United States. With all of that being said, we’re working through it, we’ll see what happens. But it’s not really fair.”

“Because of the fact he bought a Russian missile, we’re not allowed to sell him billions of dollars worth of aircraft. It’s not a fair situation,” Trump continued.

Trump didn’t raise the prospect of new sanctions on Turkey, which are on the table after the country’s purchase of the Russian S-400 air defense system. Administration officials and lawmakers have been warning for weeks that Turkey will face sanctions if it went ahead with the Russian system.

The first shipment of the Russian-made system landed in Ankara last week. Erdoğan has said the system will be fully operational by April 2020. Trump’s nominee for secretary of defense, Mark Esper, said Turkey’s decision to go ahead and purchase the Russian system was “disappointing.”

During his confirmation hearing on Tuesday, Esper said Turkey has “been a long standing and very capable NATO ally, but their decision on the S-400 is the wrong one and it’s disappointing.”

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