U.S. Air Force Chief Says It's Still 'Possible' Turkey May Call Off Russian Missile Purchase
By RFE/RL May 17, 2019
The chief of the U.S. Air Force says it is still "possible" that Turkey will decide against purchasing a Russian missile-defense system, a deal that has angered Washington and many NATO allies.
Asked if Ankara may ultimately change its mind about acquiring the S-400 missile system, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said on May 16 that "it's possible."
"The diplomats are continuing the work on that," she said, reiterating the viewpoint that the Russian missile system is "incompatible with having the F-35 [fighter jets]."
The United States has demanded that Ankara call off the deal to purchase the Russian missile system, and NATO allies have also expressed concerns about the potential threat to U.S.-made F-35 fighter jets.
Turkey, as a NATO member, is participating in the production of the fighter jet for use by alliance militaries and has plans itself to purchase 100 of the jets.
But U.S. officials have warned that Turkey's participation in F-35 production work and its planned purchase of the warplanes could be canceled if Ankara goes through with the Russian deal.
A bipartisan group of senior U.S. lawmakers on May 15 called on Turkey to cancel its planned purchase of the missile system.
"The message to Turkey is clear: There is broad, bipartisan consensus that if Turkey goes forward and acquires S-400s, it should not get F-35s," said Republican Kevin McCarthy, the House of Representatives minority leader.
"Cozying up to Vladimir Putin is unacceptable. The U.S. Congress will not stand idly by if [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan pursues the Russian S-400 air- and missile-defense system. This legislation sends a clear message to Erdogan -- if you continue down this path, you'll face serious consequences," said Michael McCaul, the ranking Republican member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has said Ankara is aware of U.S. concerns, but Erdogan has insisted that the missile purchase is a done deal and will not be called off. The first deliveries could come as early as June or July, officials have said.
Wilson has confirmed to reporters that shipments of F-35 support gear to Turkey had been halted.
Two of the planes were handed over to Turkey in June 2018, but they remain at a U.S. base in Arizona, and Turkish pilots are allowed access.
"We're continuing to train the Turkish pilots at Luke Air Force Base, but we don't think that we can deliver those aircraft into a country that has the S-400," Wilson said.
Wilson is scheduled to leave her post at the end of May to assume the presidency of the University of Texas at El Paso. Her deputy, Matthew Donovan, is slated to take over as acting secretary on June 1.
With reporting by AFP, The Air Force Times, and Reuters
Copyright (c) 2019. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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