Turkey expects that disagreements with the United States over the production of F-35 jets will be overcome, its defense minister told Reuters, claiming that Ankara remained at the “center of NATO” despite criticism from allies of its incursion into Syria, according to Reuters.
Washington began removing Ankara from a joint F-35 production program after Turkey bought and took delivery in July of a Russian S-400 missile defense system.
The United States says the system is not compatible with NATO defenses and poses a threat to Lockheed Martin Corp’s F-35 stealth fighter.
Turkey, which also wanted to buy the jets, has since said it could look elsewhere.
“We hope that we will continue producing them. There are some issues right now, but I believe these issues will be overcome,” Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said in an interview on Wednesday.
“We are partners in the production of F-35s, and we have been investing in the project for years, around $1.5 billion … producing some of its parts in Turkey,” he added.
Turkey’s incursion this month into northeastern Syria has further strained ties between the two NATO allies, even though President Donald Trump paved the way for it by pulling US troops out of the region.
Last week, Washington sanctioned some Turkish ministries and ministers over the attacks on the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia, which were US allies in a years-long fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). On Wednesday Trump said the sanctions would be lifted after Ankara said it was making a ceasefire in Syria permanent.
Akar rejected criticism that Turkey was drifting away from its Western allies.
“We are at the center of NATO, and we remain determined to carry out all of our responsibilities fully. We are going nowhere,” he said.
Akar added that Turkey had caught around 200 ISIL militants in northern Syria during its operations into the area.
“We have captured 200 ISIS members,” he said. “We are holding them in appropriate places.”