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Turkey may buy Russian fighter jets if F-16 sale is blocked: Turkish FM

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In a move likely to strain Turkey’s ties with its NATO allies, the Turkish foreign minister has said Turkey has the option to buy Russian Su-35 or Su-57 fighter jets if the US fails to sell it F-16s, Deutsche Welle Turkish service reported on Thursday.

Washington imposed sanctions in December on Turkey’s military procurement agency as punishment for its purchase of a Russian missile defense system under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, or CAATSA, which mandates penalties for transactions deemed harmful to US interests.

In April 2021 the US officially removed Turkey from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program due to its procurement of the Russian S-400, a mobile surface-to-air missile system.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu on Thursday indicated that Turkey may continue to have talks with the US for a solution to the F-35 situation or accept F-16 fighter jets to be provided by the US in return for the funds paid for the F-35 program.

“If the US does not want to sell [F-16s] and fails to solve these problems or if the Congress blocks such a sale, then we will move on to other options including the Su-35 and Su-57, as noted by Defense Industry President İsmail Demir. We will procure our needs from other sources until we start to produce them on our own,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Turkish Defense Ministry announced on Thursday that Turkish and US delegations have agreed to continue talks on the F-35s.

“A meeting has been held in Ankara between the Turkish Defense Ministry and the US Department of Defense to smooth out the dispute regarding the F-35s and discuss financial matters, and the two sides have agreed to continue talks,” the Defense Ministry tweeted.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar on Wednesday talked to his US counterpart on the phone.

“On October 27, 2021, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd James Austin spoke on the phone to discuss regional defense and security issues,” said the statement issued by the Turkish Defense Ministry.

Despite Turkey’s removal from the F-35 program, Turkish contractors have continued to produce parts for the aircraft and will do so through 2022, according to local media reports.

Regardless of the implementation of CAATSA, the Turkish government believes that a solution can still be found to problems that arose over Turkey’s exclusion from the F-35 fighter jet program, or at least that Turkey can be compensated through the sale of new F-16 fighter jets and modernization kits.

Washington says the S-400s pose a threat to its F-35 fighter jets and NATO’s broader defense systems. Turkey rejects this and says the S-400s will not be integrated into NATO.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said earlier this month that the US had proposed the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey in return for its investment in the F-35 program, from which Ankara was removed after buying the missile defense system from Russia.

Erdoğan said Washington had made the F-16 proposal in return for Turkey’s payment of $1.4 billion for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program.

In a bipartisan letter dated Oct. 25 to both US President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, however, 11 members of the House of Representatives voiced their concerns about Turkey’s acquisition of 40 new Lockheed Martin F-16 fighter jets and 80 F-16 modernization kits from the US.

Referring to Erdoğan’s plan to acquire new F-16 jets and modernize existing aircraft as compensation for the $1.4 billion paid for F-35 jets, the letter said the US “cannot afford to transfer any advanced military equipment to the government of Turkey at this time.”

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