US President Donald Trump at a Monday ceremony in Fort Drum, New York, signed a national defense bill that suspends delivery of F35 Joint Strike Fighters to Turkey.
The $716 billion John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 (NDAA) suspends delivery of JSF jets to Turkey until the Pentagon produces a report within 90 days detailing US-Turkish relations and the effect of cutting Turkey out of the F-35 production chain.
Turkey received its first pair of 100 F-35 fighters in June. However, the jets remain in the United States where their Turkish pilots are receiving training and are not due to arrive in Turkey until at least September 2019.
This, and the delivery of a further 28 currently on order, have been targeted in the NDAA due to Turkey’s purchase of S-400 missile defense systems from Russia and the imprisonment of US citizens, including Andrew Brunson, an evangelical pastor held on terror charges since October 2016.
Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Thom Tillis, the bill’s lead sponsors, said in a statement in July when it was successfully negotiated that they “felt it inappropriate and dangerous to send Turkey F-35 aircraft at this time, while the Turkish government continues to wrongfully imprison Americans and US Consulate staff.”
Since then, Brunson and the other detained US citizens and employees have been at the center of a diplomatic spat that has seen Trump slap sanctions on two Turkish ministers and double the tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminum, exacerbating the most drastic plunge in the lira’s value seen in decades.
Turkey’s planned purchase of the S-400 system, meanwhile, has raised concerns among NATO members that they could be used to feed sensitive military data to Russia.
The removal of Turkey from the F-35 supply chain would be a blow for Turkish defense firms, at least 10 of which are involved in the production of components including fuselages and cockpit screens. Turkey has reportedly invested over $1 billion in the F-35 project.
Meanwhile, the US chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Monday said the US sanctions against Turkey in response to the country’s detention of the American pastor have been effective.
Ed Royce spoke to Fox News on Washington’s decision earlier this month to apply impose sanctions on two of Turkey’s ministers, Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gül and Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu, and double steel and aluminum tariffs, which sent the Turkish currency plummeting against the US dollar.
“I think that the type of sanctions that are effective on Turkey, the focus on the human rights violations, the holding of the pastor for more than two years and therefore the sanctions against Turkish officials, I think that’s effective,” Royce said.
The Turkish lira has dropped to more than 7 to the dollar from around 4,5 since US President Trump first announced sanctions against Turkey two weeks ago over Turkey’s detention of pastor Brunson, who Ankara accuses of espionage, along with other US citizens.
Meanwhile, the US Embassy in Ankara has not put out a statement regarding Brunson, an embassy official told Reuters on Monday, after a report on social media cited the embassy as saying he would be released from house arrest by Aug. 15.
Also on Monday Turkey’s staunchly pro-Erdoğan Sabah daily claimed that Brunson gathered intelligence as part of a plan to invade Turkey. Brunson was one of many people who gathered information about “gas stations and railways” in Turkey to be used during “a possible state of invasion and chaos,” Sabah claimed, citing a 52-page indictment prepared by the İzmir Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office.
Brunson, who denies all charges, could face up to 35 years in prison. He is one of 20 Americans who were charged after a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016, in Turkey.
The case of Brunson, an evangelical Christian being tried by a Turkish court, is one of a series of disputes that lies at the heart of deteriorating ties between the two NATO allies. (SCF with Ahval)