Erdogan says Turkey to turn elsewhere if US will not sell F-35s

The United States said last week it was removing Nato ally Turkey from the fighter jet programme

FILE PHOTO: Turkey President Recep Tayip Erdogan attends the South East European Cooperation Process (SEECP) summit in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, July 9, 2019. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Turkey President Recep Tayip Erdogan attends the South East European Cooperation Process (SEECP) summit in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, July 9, 2019. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/File Photo

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has said that Turkey will turn elsewhere for fighter jets if the United States will not sell it the F-35 jets, adding that a US decision to cut Ankara from the programme would not deter it from meeting its needs.

The United States said last week it was removing Nato ally Turkey from the F-35 programme, as long threatened, after Ankara purchased and received delivery of Russian S-400 missile defences that Washington sees as a threat.

Washington has also threatened sanctions on Turkey, though Ankara has dismissed the warnings. It has instead put its trust in sympathetic comments from U.S. President Donald Trump, who has said that Turkey was treated "unfairly".

Mr Trump told reporters at the White House on Friday he does not blame Turkey for buying the Russian air defence system, but did not say when he would decide on imposing sanctions on Turkey for doing business with the Russian military, as required by a 2017 US law.

"We're looking at the whole Turkey situation," Mr Trump said. "It's a tough situation ... I don't blame Turkey because there are a lot of circumstances."

President Erdogan, speaking publicly about the strained US ties for the first time in 11 days, said he hoped US officials would be "reasonable" on the question of sanctions, adding that Turkey may also reconsider its purchase of advanced Boeing aircraft from the United States.

"Are you not giving us the F-35s? Okay, then excuse us but we will once again have to take measures on that matter as well and we will turn elsewhere," President Erdogan told members of his ruling AK Party.

"Even if we're not getting F-35s, we are buying 100 advanced Boeing aircrafts, the agreement is signed... At the moment, one of the Boeing planes has arrived and we are making the payments, we are good customers," he said. "But, if things continue like this, we will have to reconsider this."

Russia's Rostec state conglomerate said Russia would be ready to supply its SU-35 jets to Turkey if Ankara requested them. But, Turkish officials said on Thursday there were no talks with Moscow on alternatives to the F-35 jets for now.

Ties between Ankara and Washington have been strained over a host of issues. Turkey has also been infuriated with US support for the Kurdish YPG militia in Syria, a main US ally in the region that Ankara sees as a terrorist organisation.

Ankara has warned that it would launch a military operation in northern Syria to wipe out the YPG if it could not agree with Washington on the planned safe zone in the region, saying it had run "out of patience."

However, President Erdogan said on Friday that Turkey is determined to destroy the "terror corridor" east of the Euphrates river in Syria no matter how talks on the safe zone conclude, as Ankara ramped up its threats of an offensive.

Published: July 27, 2019 02:32 PM

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