US congressional negotiators agree to prohibit F-35 delivery to Turkey

The US Senate and House of Representatives have come together on a $716 billion defense spending report that would prohibit the transfer of F-35 jets to Turkey, among other measures, the Breaking Defense website reported.

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) Report was hashed out in a joint House/Senate conference committee over the past three weeks, with the goal of having the House vote on it this week, with the Senate to follow in August, Hill aides said Monday.

The  language on Turkey will likely anger Ankara, which plans to buy the Russian-made S-400 air defense system despite loud objections from fellow NATO members who say that the system will compromise the alliance’s security. The purchase from Russia is also putting Turkish participation in the F-35 program in jeopardy, as Congress is ready to stop all deliveries of the plane to Turkey.

“We’re trying to make a point that is broader than just the F-35,” said one aide, adding that the report is “taking a look at all of the major FMS sales pending with Turkey, and requires an assessment of the overall US strategic relation with Turkey.”

Although the Pentagon almost always respects language in the NDAA report, it does have not the force of law, as does the National Defense Authorization Act.

However, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Tuesday dismissed reports about the US Senate and Congress aiming to prohibit the transfer of advanced F-35 fighter jets to Turkey.

In reply to questions after his ruling AKP’s parliamentary group meeting in Ankara, Erdoğan said: “You know the matter, it is completely in the hands of the US president once the bill passes. Trump showed me a written statement he made during our discussions in Brussels, and such a thing [prohibiting the transfer] is not in question.

“Currently, we have paid $900 million [into the program] thus far. Two of the jets have already been delivered to us there. Our pilots are currently training on the aircraft in the US. We have no concerns regarding this issue at the moment,” he said.

According to a report by Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis had opposed a measure that seeks the removal of Turkey from the F-35 program. In a letter sent to the Senate and House Foreign Affairs committees, Mattis voiced concerns about the defense budget, known as the NDAA.

Meanwhile, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu has reiterated that Turkey will not implement the US’s unilateral sanctions on Iran, noting that Ankara has conveyed this message to a recently visiting US Treasury delegation, the Hürriyet Daily News reported.

“We have told them we will not join these sanctions,” Çavuşoğlu said, referencing a visit by US Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorist Financing Marshall Billingslea to Ankara last week.

“We buy oil from Iran, and we purchase it under proper conditions. What is the other option?” Çavuşoğlu said Turkish authorities told the US delegation, speaking at a roundtable discussion with journalists on Tuesday.

“While we are explaining why we will not obey these sanctions, we have also expressed that we do not find these US sanctions appropriate,” the minister also said.

In a wide-ranging discussion with journalists, Çavuşoğlu also stressed that Turkey is willing to reconcile its ties with the EU in the coming period and is planning to hold meetings with European countries.

Çavuşoğlu also claimed that the US was taking the accusations of the Turkish government against the Gülen movement more seriously after their persistence in providing “more evidence.”

The Turkish government accuses the Gülen movement of orchestrating a coup attempt on July 15, 2016, although the movement strongly denies it. The leader of the movement, Fethullah Gülen has been living in the US since 1999 and after the coup attempt has become an important foreign policy issue between Turkey and the US. (SCF with turkishminute.com)

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