Trump will resolve F-35 issue for Turkey - Turkish foreign minister

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu shrugged off suggestions that Turkey’s purchase of Russian S-400 missile defence systems would prevent the transfer of new generation F-35 stealth fighter jets during a discussion at the Atlantic Council think tank on Wednesday.

U.S. President Donald Trump promised to resolve the issue in a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Çavuşoğlu said, adding that the phone call had taken place “recently” but that he could not reveal further details.

“Despite what the Pentagon said earlier this week,” asked the moderator, CBS News journalist Margaret Brennan.

“Right, right, on this issue and also S-400 issue,” Çavuşoğlu said.

The Pentagon, U.S. Congress and NATO have all expressed concerns with the S-400 deal, which experts have said could leave a backdoor open for Russia to obtain NATO defence data.

“The S-400 is a computer. The F-35 is a computer. You don’t hook your computer to your adversary’s computer and that’s basically what we would be doing,” acting U.S. Secretary of Defense Kathryn Wheelbarger said in March.

The United States stopped shipping equipment related to the F-35 jets to Turkey on Monday, marking the first concrete step towards stopping the F-35 transfer.

Çavuşoğlu, however, insisted that the S-400 would cause no problems for NATO defence systems since Turkey did not plan to integrate the Russian system.

“We made it very clear, and we made very clear that this system will not see any NATO system, including F-35s, as an enemy.  So therefore, we propose United States to establish a technical working group to make sure that this system will not be a threat neither to F-35s nor to NATO systems,” he said.

Asked about Syria, another point of contention between Ankara and Washington, the Turkish foreign minister expressed his confusion about what he called mixed signals coming from the U.S. government.

“(Different) positions, different statements coming from different institutions and departments here in the United States – State Department and Defense, actually, ministry as well as the military on the ground, CENTCOM, and this and that – all different positions and different – there is no clear strategy.  This is a problem,” he said.

Ankara has pushed for a withdrawal of U.S. troops from northern Syria, where they have been deployed alongside Kurdish militias in the fight against the Islamic State. The Turkish government views the Kurdish forces as a threat due to links to outlawed organisations within Turkey.

Trump called for a full withdrawal last December, but after the plan faced opposition from U.S. politicians and officials, the plans have been modified to leave several hundred U.S. troops in the country.

Çavuşoğlu insisted it would be better for all countries to leave Syria, but said despite the tensions with the United States, it had been one of Turkey’s main partners in the country.