Turkey says to honor Russia deal as US vows to ban transfer of F-35s to Ankara
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Turkey says to honor Russia deal as US vows to ban transfer of F-35s to Ankara

Speaking in Antalya at a joint news conference with Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov Friday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Moscow and Ankara were discussing delivery times. Cavusoglu also said Turkey has met its obligations to be part of the F-35 fighter aircraft plan but the US is making contradictory statements over the program. His remarks came after four US senators on Thursday introduced a bipartisan bill to prohibit the transfer of F-35s to Turkey unless Ankara stops taking delivery of the S-400 system.  The bill introduced by Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Republican Sen. James Lankford will add to growing US pressure on Turkey to turn away from the Russia deal. The United States and other NATO allies who own F-35 fighter jets fear the radar on the Russian S-400 missile system will learn how to spot and track the F-35, making it less able to evade Russian weapons in the future. Shaheen, a member of the Senate’s foreign relations and armed services committees, says Ankara’s purchase of Russia’s S-400 missile defense system would give Moscow access to the US aircraft and technology in Turkey and that “is a serious national and global security risk.” In a bid to prevent the S-400 system from being operated on the NATO soil, the US has offered Turkey the more expensive Patriot anti-missile system at a discount that expires at the end of March, but on condition that Ankara drop its plans to buy the S-400. So far Ankara has not shown any willingness to reverse the S-400 purchase. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said earlier this month that his country will not go back on its agreement to buy S-400 systems from Russia, despite pressures from the United States. "It's done," Erdogan said in an interview with broadcaster Kanal 24 on March 6, stressing that "there can never be a turning back". "This would not be ethical, it would be immoral. Nobody should ask us to lick up what we spat," he said. F-35 program without Turkish-made components The US has threatened to impose sanctions on Turkey, to block it from receiving deliveries of the new F-35 stealth fighter jet program, and to remove Turkish-made components from the F-35 supply chain, which include parts of the fuselage, landing gear and cockpit displays. Turkey argues that it would be too complicated to exclude the components made by the country from the F-35 fighter jet program, but US sources were quoted by Reuters as saying Washington can still proceed with the trillion-dollar F-35 fighter jet program without Turkish components. Two US sources familiar with the F-35’s intricate worldwide production process and American thinking on the issue say Turkey can be replaced. “There are about 800 parts that Turkey makes for the F-35, and of them, very few are sole source,” said a person with direct knowledge of the US position, explaining that single source parts from Turkey can be replaced by contractors who had previously bid to make them. “Turkey is not too big to fail,” the person said. Ankara has long said it plays a key role in the F-35 program and that excluding it would not be easy. Foreign Minister Cavusoglu said in December that the US cannot unilaterally cancel Turkey’s participation. Russia and Turkey finalized an agreement on the delivery of Russian S-400 missile defense systems in December 2017. Turkey is expected to take delivery of the systems between later this year and early next year.  The US has been selling its own Patriot missile systems to regional countries to push back against Russia’s expanding influence among them. US-Turkey ties going from bad to worse Excluding Turkey from the F-35 program would be a massive blow to already strained ties between Washington and Ankara. In addition to the missile defense row, the two sides strongly disagree on the issue of Venezuelan President, Nicolas Maduro, as well. Elliott Abrams, the US president’s special envoy to the Latin American nation, recently warned that the Erdogan government is “strongly supporting Maduro” and that US officials had “not had the cooperation from Turkey that we want.” The Turkish president has urged his Venezuelan counterpart to “stand up tall” and has described US efforts to force him from power as a “coup attempt.” Erdogan’s stance on Venezuela has emerged as a new flashpoint in the already strained relationship between Ankara and Washington, with Turkey’s imports of Venezuelan gold a particular source of concern. US officials have claimed that the country imported 20 tonnes of the precious metal from the South American nation last year, worth almost $1 billion. Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Abrams said Washington had asked Ankara to halt that process. "Whether it’s gold or anything else of value, we inquire and we ask the government in question to stop it,” he said.

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