US Team to Visit Turkey to 'Express Specific Concerns' Over S-400 Deal - Reports
Washington has been pressuring Ankara to abandon its purchase of Russian S-400 air defence systems for months, promising to sell it the Patriot missile system instead, and threatening to block the delivery of the F-35 fifth-gen fighter jets if Turkey goes forward with its deal with Russia.
The US technical team being dispatched to Turkey will arrive in the country on January 15 for two days of talks, Hurriyet has reported.
According to the newspaper, the US team will "express specific concerns" to its Turkish counterparts, particularly as it concerns the "flight safety of F-35 aircraft," with Ankara presently remaining undeterred from its plans to buy four battalion sets of S-400s worth $2.5 billion from Russia.
Last week, Turkish Defence Industry chief Ismail Demir said he would welcome US officials to pay a visit and explain precisely what risks the S-400 could pose to the F-35.
"We have constantly been hearing about the potential harms and problems over the stealth fighter qualification of the F-35s in the event of its deployment to a place close to the S-400s. We have never had a team visiting us to clarify what the technical risks are. We have told them several times to come and explain all their concerns if they think these are serious ones," Demir said.
The US has spent months lobbying Turkey to pull out of the S-400 deal with Russia. Last month, the State Department approved the sale of $3.5 billion-worth of Patriot missile systems to the country. Ankara responded by saying that it would consider the Patriots, but that it would not affect the S-400 contract. On Thursday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu reiterated that it would be "impossible" to consider the Patriots if it meant abandoning the S-400 deal.
US officials have characterised the possible deployment of S-400s in areas where F-35s are set to operate as a "threat," presumably because the system would allow Turkey to test just how formidable the F-35's stealth systems are when matched up against the Russian air defence system.
Moscow and Ankara penned a $2.5 billion contract on four battalion sets of S-400s in December 2017, with the first of the systems expected to arrive this year. Designed to stop enemy aircraft, drones, cruise and ballistic missiles, the S-400s is the most advanced mobile air defence system in Moscow's arsenal, and is fielded by Russia, Belarus and China. Late last year, Moscow and New Delhi signed a $5 billion contract on ten battalion sets of S-400s for India.
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