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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 7 March 2021

Turkey hires law firm to lobby US for re-admission to F-35 fighter jet programme

Ankara paying firm $750k to help overturn expulsion triggered by purchase of Russian missile system

An F-35 pilot prepares for take off from the Vermont Air National Guard Base in the United States. US Air National Guard via Reuters
An F-35 pilot prepares for take off from the Vermont Air National Guard Base in the United States. US Air National Guard via Reuters

Turkey has hired a Washington-based law firm to lobby President Joe Biden's administration to give back its spot in the US-led F-35 fighter jet programme.

The six-month contract with Arnold & Porter, worth $750,000 and filed with the US Department of Justice on Tuesday, comes as Turkey seeks to find a solution with Mr Biden over its controversial Russian missile system purchase.

The law firm "will advise on a strategy ... to remain within the Joint Strike Fighter Programme, taking into consideration and addressing the complex geopolitical and commercial factors at play", the contract says.

Turkey was kicked out of the F-35 programme in 2019 as punishment for its decision to acquire Russian S-400 batteries after failing to agree on terms for the US Patriot missile defence system used by most other Nato member states.

Washington slapped Turkey's military procurement agency with sanctions after the S-400s were tested for the first time late last year.

The United States fears that the S-400 systems could help Russia gather intelligence and better shoot down Nato warplanes if fully integrated in Turkish defences.

The Pentagon confirmed earlier this month that it believed the Russian systems were "incompatible" with the F-35 jets and that the sanctions on Turkey would stay in place until the S-400s are removed.

Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar suggested a compromise solution earlier this month that would see the S-400s boxed up and only deployed when needed.

The State Department appeared to reject that suggestion by saying: "Our policy vis-a-vis the S-400s has not changed."

Mr Biden's administration has assumed a much tougher posture with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan than Ankara enjoyed when Donald Trump was in the White House.

Mr Biden has not called Mr Erdogan since taking office last month and the State Department has sharply rebuked Turkey's human rights record.

Turkey was both a parts supplier and buyer of the F-35s.

US officials say the sanctions will still allow the jets' prime contractor Lockheed Martin to honour its outstanding agreements in Turkey.

Updated: February 20, 2021 03:18 PM

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