Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 February 2020

Erdogan: Turkey will go elsewhere if US will not sell F-35 jets

Turkish president hints that purchases of Boeing passenger aircraft might be cancelled

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses his ruling party members in Ankara on July 26, 2019. Presidential Press Service via AP
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses his ruling party members in Ankara on July 26, 2019. Presidential Press Service via AP

President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday that Turkey would turn elsewhere for fighter jets if the United States would 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 to impose sanctions on Turkey, although Ankara has dismissed the warnings. It has instead put its trust in sympathetic comments from US President Donald Trump, who has said that Turkey was treated "unfairly". However, Mr Trump has not ruled out sanctions on Turkey.

Mr Erdogan, speaking publicly about the strained US ties for the first time in nearly two weeks, 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," Mr 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."

Turkish Airlines said in March last year that it would buy 25 of Boeing’s 787-9 jets, scheduled for delivery by 2023. In 2013, it had announced a decision to purchase 75 of the 737 MAX jets, the grounded airplanes involved in two fatal crashes. Five of these were delivered in the first quarter this year, with the rest set to be delivered by the end of 2023.

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, Mr Erdogan said on Friday that Turkey was 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.

Updated: July 26, 2019 03:42 PM

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