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Turkey hires US law firm to lobby for reentry to F-35 fighter jet program

A US soldier stands guard beside a Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jet at the International Paris Air Show in Le Bourget outside Paris on June 21, 2017. CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT / AFP

Turkey’s state-owned Defense Industry Technologies (SSTEK) has signed a contract worth $750,000 with one of Washington’s most prestigious law firms in an attempt to remain in the F-35 stealth jet fighter program, Foreign Lobby Report said on Thursday.

The Ankara-based SSTEK, which is wholly owned by the Presidency of Defense Industries (SSB) — the government office that manages Turkey’s defense industry – reportedly signed a six-month contract with Arnold & Porter, whose partners visited the Turkish capital to finalize the deal earlier this week.

In July 2019 the Trump administration announced that it had removed Turkey as a partner from the multi-nation F-35 fighter jet program over its purchase of a Russian S-400 air defense system, which Washington says is incompatible with NATO’s defense network and poses a security risk.

Earlier in February the Pentagon said that the Biden administration would not lift the ban on Turkey buying F-35 fighter jets.

Turkish contractors continue to manufacture parts for the fifth-generation jet, despite Turkey’s removal and the implementation of sanctions on the SSB in December under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) over its cooperation with Rosoboronexport, Russia’s main arms export entity.

“Arnold & Porter will advise on a strategy for the SSB and Turkish contractors to remain within the Joint Strike Fighter Program, taking into consideration and addressing the complex geopolitical and commercial factors at play,” the Foreign Lobby Report said, citing the law firm’s lobbying filing.

According to the lobbying news website, Arnold & Porter will also “undertake targeted outreach to the US commercial partners and stakeholders within the JSF Program to sound out and understand their interests with regard to SSB’s continued involvement as a strategic ally and valued partner in the JSF Program.”

The firm further committed to “continually monitor export controls and trade sanctions … that may be relevant and explain any said sanctions.”

Among those who are registered as lobbyists on the contract is A&P senior international policy adviser Miomir Zuzul, a former Croatian lawmaker and former ambassador to the United States. Zuzul is joined by A&P partner Raul Herrera and senior counsel L. Charles Landgraf.

The contract was not signed by the SSB directly, but by SSTEK, which could be a way to circumvent the restrictions brought by sanctions on the SSB’s activities, defense analyst Özgür Ekşi told Foreign Lobby Report, noting that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan‘s administration was committed to re-entering the program.

“Keeping Turkey in the [F-35] program is definitely one of the priorities of the Turkish government. The SSB keeps repeating that they are loyal to their international commitments,” Ekşi added.

In an interview with the Hürriyet newspaper on Feb. 9, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar proposed a “Crete model,” which entails Turkey not keeping the S-400s active, as an alternative solution to the matter.

“It’s not like we will always use [the S-400s]. These systems are made operational depending on the threat assessment. It’s we who decide on this,” Akar explained.

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